Book review: £15 that could save you a lot more later on

3 December 2016

Chris Hallam reviews Sarah Fox's guide to letters of intent.

How to Write Simple and Effective Letters of Intent in Just 500 Words by Sarah Fox is a triumph. In particular, it is a triumph of brevity over verbosity – albeit that the title itself is a bit of a mouthful! Written in a user-friendly and easily digestible style, it will help the reader work their way through the minefield that is the letter of intent.

I have always been wary of letters of intent. They come in so many shapes and sizes and whilst there are a few standard forms knocking around, there is no standard form which anyone agrees is effective – and being frank some of them are pretty hopeless.

Every year the courts have to grapple with working out whether the latest example to cross their paths is a contract, and if it is, whether it actually requires the contractor to do some work and/or the employer to pay some cash.

There is no end to the legal and commercial discrepancies and arguments that these comparatively short agreements throw up. Yet, every year, as regular as clockwork, we see disputes over letters of intent reach the higher courts.

Everyone hopes that their own letter of intent is good enough, and that hopefully it will soon be overtaken by a full contract, so they won’t suffer the wrath of the judges. But hope alone is not really the solution. The prudent person makes sure their letter of intent does the job.

Sarah Fox’s book provides a guide to how to write your own letter of intent, based on a detailed understanding of the law of contract and the relevant cases.

Of course, in an ideal world, letters of intent would be unnecessary as the supply chain would be bound in long-term relationships with clear contractual agreements from early on in each project. Back in the real world, however, they are a matter of fact and it is refreshing to see someone take this subject and shake it up.

Of course, Fox is on her own mission – to get you to reduce all your contracts to 500 words (a mission I can't exactly say I share, but then I might have a vested interest in the alternative). As she is at pains to explain, simple letters of intent will help you to start your project quicker, record your agreement precisely and avoid disputes. 

I was not expecting a book about letters of intent to be as simple or practical as this. In less than 100 pages, Fox clearly sets out her case for using simple contracts and for how to draft effective letters of intent. Her knowledge shines through and the lack of legalese and jargon, as well as boring case reviews, makes this a highly-readable guide.

At 15 quid for a real copy, or just a fiver on Kindle, it's well worth shelling out for this guide. It could save you a lot of money and heartache in the long run. But obviously, feel free not to do so – I’ll be happy to take your call if it all goes pear-shaped, but I’m afraid it’ll cost you a bit more than 15 quid! 

Chris Hallam is a partner at Nabarro LLP

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