Signing Legal Documents

When faced with a sales clerk pressuring you to sign AT&T cell phone contract or buy that dish network tv contract that bundles all of your services together, do you sign papers after you read them? Or do you sign first, read, then regret later.

Most of us sign first. We all know better but in the midst of hurrying through our day we sign before we read. Signing before reading in the examples above are pretty harmless. We all sign things that promise the moon but don’t deliver. But those contracts are just small time offenders.

The big offenders are when we need to bring in attorneys. Big ones like starting a partnership, entering into an employment agreement or a non-competition agreement, buying a house. Those are the ones that make huge amounts of trouble down the road. What we don’t know in those sorts of contracts can literally bankrupt us.

When setting up a partnership, entering into an agreement with a realtor or neighbor, make sure to bring a lawyer to read through the papers. Yes, yes, we all know you have a degree in rocket science. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read legal papers. It takes a specialist in law. A lawyer can translate the language into understandable English and make sure you are protected as you go into further negotiations with the other side.

How come law is hard to understand, you ask? Law has its own language. Law, especially U.S. law, started in England. Law in England progressed from the Celtic customs to Roman law, to the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings and then to the Norman Conquest. No wonder U.S. law is complicated. There are still some of those words in the law. The biggest change came with the Norman Conquest in 1066. The official language of the country shifted from Anglo-Saxon to French and then developed into English. We still see some of the results of this in legal language. For example, in a will you will frequently see “bequeath and devise” but it will seem redundant and old fashioned. It’s not redundant but it may be old fashioned. Why? Because you “devise” real estate you don’t bequeath it. Why not? Because the Normans took the land from the Saxons but not their personal property. So the Saxon’s “bequeath” their personal property and the Normans “devise” their land. And we do both.

Worse, words that in any normal sense would mean one thing have completely different meanings in a legal brief. There, I said it. One of those legal words. Brief. A brief in legal terms is a paper that explains to the Judge why you and your client are in Court. It is not a short statement. Frequently it’s just the opposite. So forget all you ever knew about dictionaries and meanings.

Just remember, don’t be intimidated into signing legal documents. Ask for the time to review them. If they say, don’t worry, be happy, just sign on the dotted line, walk away from the table and call your lawyer. If you don’t, you’ll be calling us soon enough.

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