Canned Sincerity

Originally appeared in the June 1998 issue of the ABA Journal.

Harmless Error - A Truly Minority View on the Law

Canned Sincerity


My colleague recently received a mail offer to purchase an amazing new book called The Someone Cares Encyclopedia of Letter Writing. This real book contains “over 525 thoughtful letters . . . for every conceivable occasion already written for you.” The “heartfelt” form letters cover everything from complaining about your kid’s soccer coach to offering sympathy for an “unnamed tragedy.”

What a great idea for lawyers! With all our form books, we’re still at sea when it comes to personal correspondence. Lawyers encounter lots of emotional situations where a heartfelt letter could prove invaluable. The decision to leave a law firm is a perfect example. Breaking the news to one’s colleagues can be agonizing. Think how great it would be to flip open a book and find a sensitive letter ready to be custom-fit to your situation:

Form 269: Law Firm Resignation Letter

Dear ________:

I regret to inform you that I am leaving the firm. Please don’t think my decision has anything to do with my [low salary/long hours/dislike for you personally/sexual harassment suit]. I’ve been thinking about this for some time and feel the timing is right given our recent [open and honest communication/frank discussion/bar brawl].

I can honestly say I’m going to [miss you/miss this place/miss your spouse/ruin your name/the beach every day]. I will take many things with me, the most important of which is [our friendship/a grudge I will hold for the rest of my life/the office furniture]. When I look back, the picture I will always remember is [the day you hired me/the first case we won together/the one I took of you at the firm party and keep in my safe deposit box].

To show my [appreciation/good faith/utter disdain for you], I plan to send you a [special gift/sizable check/dead cat].

Thanks for taking this so well. You are a true [friend/lawyer’s lawyer/##&$%%].

[Warmly/Sincerely/I’m Outta Here!]

Your Name

Such a personalized letter is likely to touch any former colleague and to prompt a similarly heartfelt response:

Form 270: Reply to Resignation Letter

Dear _______:

It is with a heavy [heart/handgun/stack of work you left unfinished] that I reply to your notice that you are leaving the firm. Your service here will never be [forgotten/forgiven/understood/discussed], no matter how long you have been gone.

We wish you lots of [happiness/good wishes/personal setbacks] in the future. If there is any way we may [be of assistance/enforce our non-compete agreement/be rid of you more quickly], please do not hesitate to let us know.

You can just stick your office key [on my desk/in the mail/where the sun don’t shine] and collect your final [congratulations/paycheck/humiliation] at the firm meeting on Friday.

[Warmly/Sincerely/Good Riddance]

Your Name

I don’t know about you, but I could really use a book like this. Like a lot of men, sometimes I’m simply too absorbed in important things like [my work/myself/watching sports] to feel. I’d much rather pay someone else to do it.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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