California Demand Letter Legal Services
Before filing a lawsuit in California, it is wise to send the other party a demand letter demanding payment. Most people overlook the benefits of sending a letter. Reasonable business people often pay what is demanded or request an alternative compromise to avoid litigation. Most California courts encourage plaintiffs to settle matters zealously outside of court before filing a lawsuit. For example, California small claims courts require plaintiffs to send demand letters to defendants before filing a lawsuit.
The demand letter is the layperson’s version of a legal complaint. In the demand letter, the moving party states what the dispute, the basis of such dispute, and the immediate demand for payment in lieu of seeking further legal action. Though you do not need to hire an attorney to draft a demand letter, it is in your best interest to work with one. Sending a demand letter on an attorney’s letterhead will definitely get the other party’s attention. It will show that you are considering lawyering up to dispute the matter.
Why Write a Demand Letter
Few of us want to turn a dispute into an instant lawsuit. In many of those cases the next best step is to send the opposing party a written demand letter. In fact, in California, writing a demand letter is a legally required first step before you can file any kind of lawsuit.
The key here is that you want to resolve your claim at the lowest possible level with the least amount of hassle. He may not know it yet, but your opponent does too. The best way to do that is with a written demand letter. Let’s look at the WHY, HOW and WHAT of well-written demand letters.
There are at least four advantages to putting the problem in writing:
- It tells your opponent you are serious—-you are not going away.
- It sends a “reality message”—-your opponent has to deal with this.
- It warns your opponent that if they don’t solve this, legal consequences will follow
- Good news is you stand a 30% or higher chance of solving your problem successfully.
How to Write a Demand Letter
How you put your written demand letter together can be as important as what you say in it. Here are some real practical suggestions that get results.
- Type your letter. You want to look professional, and serious. Nothing says that better than a well-typed and proofread letter. If you don’t have access to a computer or are not used to writing letters, consider asking a family member, friend, or someone who is used to composing letters, to help you.
- Use very direct and straight-forward wording, and include some proof where needed.
- Be polite. Foul or threatening words won’t help. If your opponent is family, a friend, coworker or other close relationship, don’t ruin your relationship. Just solve the problem. If your opponent is a business, being testy or belligerent is not going to help. Keep it as free from emotion as possible.
- Proofread your letter. If you are not used to proofreading, ask someone who is used to proofreading to help you. This last step will pay dividends. A sloppy letter just won’t be convincing.
- Keep a copy of each letter you write. Also, keep all important papers that relate to the transaction or dispute. You might need all of them later in court.
- Mail your letter certified, with a return receipt, or at least use mail tracking, so you can later prove your opponent got your letter.
What to Include in the Demand Letter
Most importantly, here is what you need to say in your written demand letter to make sure your opponent understands why you are demanding action, and exactly what you want to resolve the dispute.
- Set out a summary of what has happened, and what went wrong. The easiest and best way to do this is chronologically, just by date and time. Be concise. Avoid getting too wordy.
- Explain what went wrong, and the grounds and justification you have for why you need things set right. If it is a landlord/tenant problem explain the rules or laws violated. If it is a small claim, explain why you have the legal right to make your claim. Don’t be shy about it.
- Explain your losses, and how this affected you and why. If it is money, lay out the amounts. If it is some other action they need to take, or action they need to stop, set it out clearly.
- State clearly and exactly what you want them to do to solve the problem. Do you want payment? If so what is the amount and why? If you want them to take some kind of action, or to stop doing something, make it very clear to them.
- Include a deadline. Your opponent needs to understand you are not going to wait around indefinitely for action. On most disputes, this will mean setting a deadline of somewhere between 5 to 30 days. And if they don’t meet your deadline, let them know you will be following up.
- Warn them of the consequences. Let them know you will take further legal action, which could be filing a small claim, filing a consumer complaint or warranty claim, or contacting an attorney. For your written demand letter to be effective, they need to know you are not going away. Let them know the further consequences will involve time, effort and expense, the serious chance of losing, and possibly bad publicity.
- Your letter will run at least a page, but it should not need to be any longer than about three pages. If you can’t convince your opponent to meet your terms in three pages, adding more words and more pages is very unlikely to help.
Just Do It
If you are wondering whether or not to use a written demand letter, follow the old Nike motto “just do it”. Your opponent needs to understand your legitimate complaint. They need to take you seriously. And there is a real good chance you will come out a winner. If they don’t respond and make things right for you, then we would suggest you “just do it” again, and take that next step to get the end-result you want.
Contact San Diego Esquire if you would like a demand letter written on attorney letterhead. Your opponent may take you more seriously when they see you have consulted with legal counsel. Sign up on our website today to get started.