[Editor's Note: This was posted on the ADR Prof Blog and I thought it deserved a broader audience so I asked the author, Professor Andrea Schneider for permission to reprint it.]
As readers of this blog know, I lost my grandmother last fall. It was sad, but not tragic. After all, she was 99 and lived a long productive happy life. Last week, I (and my siblings) received a very formal letter from a lawyer with an enclosure—under Pennsylvania law, where my grandmother lived, beneficiaries of her estate are required to receive notice of her death. So, the lawyer duly enclosed the official Pennsylvania state language letting me know of my rights (to contest probate, etc.). The cover letter was equally formulaic,
Ladies & Gentlemen:
You will find enclosed with regard to the trust…the notice required under Pennsylvania Uniform Trust Act of your grandmother’s death on November 3rd, 2009.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Here’s the thing—this lawyer was at my wedding, invited to my son’s Bar Mitzvah, and has known me since I was 10. I get the same cover letter as someone he has never met—really? And, even if we didn’t know each other, the letter should be better. How about this as the letter:
I am enclosing the official PA state notice that is required under law. Of course, you already know of your grandmother’s death but we have to send this out. Please call me if you have any questions. In the meantime, hope all is well with you and, again, so sorry for your loss. May her memory continue to be a blessing to you.
That doesn’t take much energy to produce and is only slightly longer time than the cut & paste job I am no doubt billed for in 6 minute increments. Why don’t lawyers do this? Why can’t we remember that we are human, our clients are human, and we might even be friends.
And, by the way, this letter ensures that our professional relationship will end when my grandmother’s estate is closed.
Andrea Schneider teaches ADR, Negotiation, Ethics, International Law, International Conflict Resolution and Art Law. She also helps to run the nationally-ranked ADR program at Marquette Law School. Her profile is at: