Just Two Little Words

Legal Market Review

Just Two Little Words

Some of our favourite phrases consist of three little words.

The ever-joyful, “I love you”, the fading-topical-popularity of “Happy new year”, the long-time-ago, “What’s your drink?” and the infuriatingly-amusing one of “You’re on mute”.

They convey a short, sharp message, which needs little else to explain its meaning, and the first one aside unless mutual, often draws a very expected reaction.

At Document Direct, we actually have a two-word phrase that would be amongst the most popular uttered by the many thousands of lawyers who send us their dictation to transcribe.


“Dear Sir… “

Short, simple to understand, inoffensive, and very clear in its message – one would think.

But, and here’s a three-word phrase – “Stop, right there!”

I, and perhaps 50% of my readers may think that. And perhaps a smidgeon of the 50% to whom, ‘Dear Sir’, is not a technically appropriate or gender-inclusive address, will show tolerance for that greeting, but is it one we should now reflect on?

My inspiration for these musings came from Beth Reid, of Sussex-based lawyers, Heringtons. Beth, who’s undoubtedly not a Trainee Solicitor for much longer, gave a fresh and thoughtful blog on this very matter, leading me to think a little on this subject.

Was this term just a stereotypical relic from a legal sector once dominated by white, middle-class men?

Was it because when writing to firms, companies and the Courts, one might have expected the reader to be male?

Perhaps that useful clause, “Words denoting any gender include all genders and words denoting persons include bodies corporate, unincorporated associations and partnerships and vice versa.” deal very wisely with the matter?

Or, perhaps, in these days of greater sensitivity and empathy to such matters, do we need to re-appraise our normal form of document greeting.

Beth retold a very nice riddle:

A father and his son were travelling north on a motorway when their car unfortunately crashed. The father died instantly, and the son was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery. When the son arrived at the hospital, the surgeon said ‘I can’t operate on him, he’s my son’. How can this be?

business writing salutations flow chart


The riddle does indeed explore gender stereotypes, even beyond the legal profession, and in some ways, it’s surprising that only 16% came to an instant conclusion on the answer.

You now have a few more seconds to realise that the surgeon was neither the boy’s resurrected father nor, in these parentally-liberated days, his other father.

Of course, it was his mother who had all the skills, talent, and opportunity to qualify as a surgeon.

In her blog, Beth did award a couple of points to those answers suggesting that the boy had two gay fathers in this progressive world we live in, but she did take them back when reflecting that the response merely reinforced the gender bias towards surgeons.

In these times of trying to gain a better understanding of the need to ensure fair recognition and respect across all intersections of life, including all genders and ethnicities, do you think that this salutation is a relic of a bygone time?


Should we be better at using “Dear {first name}, {last name}”, and more fundamentally, should we not take a moment to invest in finding out who we are actually writing to?

My dear friends at www.Grammarly.com, to who I send my thanks for providing permission to reproduce this infographic, have tried to help us here.

They do indeed provide gender-specific help, and there we have it.

So, the two-letter subject of my thesis is probably not the worst example we can think of regarding gender bias. Still, it may make us ponder a little bit about some of the ostensibly non-contentious phrases we use each day, and whether they do have any underlying sentiment attached to them.

Dear reader*, I wish you well in your future greetings.


*I hope you appreciate my entirely non-gender specific and androgynous greeting.




Author, Martyn Best, Document Direct

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