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Photo of attorneys E. Kelly Conway, Michael E. Gehring and Stephen G. Harvey

What to do if you get a threatening letter in a business dispute

On Behalf of | Aug 12, 2021 | Business Disputes

Receiving threatening letters during a business dispute is actually quite common. Often referred to as demand letters or cease and desist letters, this correspondence is frequently meant to bring about a resolution before matters are taken to court.  These documents can be mailed or formally served. The good news is that they don’t require an immediate response. Knowing the right steps to take after receiving a demand letter can have a significant impact on the outcome of a dispute.

Reflect and avoid taking immediate action

Understand that a cease and desist letter or any other threatening letter received during a business dispute is not a summons or complaint. Although the sender may demand response and threaten action if no response is given, this does not mean that the sender has already filed a lawsuit. Threatening letters are merely warnings. They often state the recipient’s legal obligations if a court order is in place, request additional info or warn of future legal actions. Rather than taking action, consider the threatening tone as merely being a means of coercion.

Make copies and create a digital record

Make physical and digital copies of the letter. You should also copy the envelope and then save the resulting files and documents for your attorney to review. It’s also a good idea to record the letter’s date of arrival and to retain copies of any receipts or release forms received by your postal carrier.

Research the sender

Identify the actual sender of the letter in addition to the party that the sender represents. Determine the exact nature of the complaint and the sender’s demands or desired actions. Take note of any consequences that the sender has threatened if no actions are taken. Avoid making social media posts or any other public announcements about the demand letter you’ve received. No statements should be made about any aspect of your business dispute until they’ve been reviewed and authorized by your attorney.

Put your attorney on the job

After having copied all documents, envelopes and receipts, and done the necessary research, turn everything over to your attorney. Litigation attorneys have the best ability to review this correspondence and accurately interpret it. You’ll then receive recommendations for the next steps to take. More often than not, if there are overzealous attorneys at the sender’s end, having your own law firm respond in kind will be a sufficient deterrent for any additional legal action. 

Reading a cease and desist letter or any other threatening correspondence that pertains to a  business dispute can be a surprisingly emotional experience. However, it’s important to avoid taking ill-advised actions based on anger or fear.