Is it time to ditch “Dear Sirs”?

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Clearly, “Dear Sirs” is old-fashioned, but is it sexist?

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I did not give it much thought until International Women’s Day 2024 when I was confronted by my opponent, a female director of a law firm.

“Dear Sirs” has been traditionally used to begin a letter to a company when the writer did not have someone’s name to write to directly.

Being a woman myself, I had no particular stance on the issue, as it was second nature to start all my written communication with the salutation “Dear Sirs”. I spent most of my legal career in private practice in the City of London where “Dear Sirs” was commonly used in written communication. However, on this year’s International Women’s Day, I discovered that some people were actually offended by the salutation “Dear Sirs”.

My opponent replied to my email correspondence stating I didn’t need to address them as “Dear Sirs”.  After going back and forth as to whether the salutation “Dear Sirs” was acceptable in a situation where the recipient was unknown, I discovered that the Law Society of Ireland discontinued the use of the “Dear Sirs” salutation in 2020. 

President of the Law Society of Ireland, Michelle O’Boyle, said, “In a move to make our written communications reflect a more equal, diverse and inclusive profession, the Law Society is encouraging all colleagues across the legal profession to retire the male-centric “Dear Sirs” phrase and adopt greetings that have a more inclusive modern approach.”

The Law Society of Ireland did, however, make it clear that it was entirely down to firms to decide whether or not to adopt an alternative salutation. In view of this, was it entirely appropriate or even reasonable for my opponent to challenge me for using the salutation “Dear Sirs”?

Meanwhile, in England, Freshfields Bruckhause Deringer, one of the UK’s leading law firms took the lead in 2016 and dropped the use of the salutation “Dear Sirs”. The Magic Circle firm announced that in written correspondence, it would use “Dear Sir or Madam” in the UK, and “Dear Ladies and Gentlemen” in the US.

In January 2021, a survey revealed that Scottish lawyers would like to see the salutation “Dear Sirs” dropped in recognition of the fact that not all lawyers are men.

In December 2022, the Law Society Gazette reported that the judiciary was taking steps to modernise the language of the courtroom by putting an end to district judges being addressed as “Sir” or “Madam”. 

More recently, in June 2023, the Law Society of Northern Ireland’s Human Rights and Equality Committee suggested solicitors should drop the “outdated and non-inclusive practice” in favour of alternatives such as “Dear Colleague”.

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Clearly, “Dear Sirs” is old-fashioned, but is it sexist? If it is sexist, should lawyers be mandated to drop the salutation “Dear Sirs”? 

Yewande FadeyiSolicitorRead More by this author

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