I hate hearing stories about attorneys who don’t listen to their clients and write them indecipherable contracts that the client can’t understand.
That’s ridiculous! How can you use something in your business if you can’t understand it?
So today, gather round, my freelance ninjas, because I’m going to teach you how to talk back to lawyers.
The lawyer you need to talk back to might be someone you’ve hired to draft a contract for use in your freelance business. Or it might be your client’s lawyer, whom you’re talking to in an attempt to figure out what their contract means.
Regardless of the lawyer you’re talking with, the secret lawyer truths revealed in this post will help you talk to that lawyer without feeling like you’re two feet tall.
You’ll be able to confidently say, “Forthwith, be it known to all and sundry, the party of the first part expresses her extreme displeasure with the pattern and practice of using convoluted legalese currently employed by the party of the second part.”
Or some such.
Secret Lawyer Truth #1: Lawyers are not magical creatures with super powers.
Lawyers have gone to more school than most people and we tend to have more student debt. We’ve learned a lot about how the legal and justice systems work and we know that an “Executrix” is not at all sexy.
But we’re not special.
We’re not inherently smarter or better or uniquely qualified to read contracts written in the English language. We might understand the ramifications of that contract better than most, but we don’t have a special claim to being able to read it.
A contract should make the same amount of sense regardless of whether a lawyer or cartoonist is reading it.
So don’t trick yourself into thinking that you can’t ask a sensible question about what something in a contract means just because you’re not a lawyer. If it doesn’t make sense to you, it’s very possible that it won’t make sense to someone else. So ask!
Secret Lawyer Truth #2: Contracts don’t need legalese to be enforceable.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to talk in legalese the same way it’s fun to talk in Klingon; there is absolutely no practical purpose for doing so but it’s entertaining all the same.
Legalese doesn’t confer any special legal powers to a contract. It doesn’t make it “more” of a contract because it uses legal-sounding language.
The phrase “the party of the first part hereby engages and employs the party of the second part in the execution of the subject matter hereto” means the same thing as “Client engages Contractor to perform the work detailed in this Agreement.”
Don’t bother with or accept contracts that try to impress you with floofy language but ultimately fall flat. Instead, demand contracts that are written in clear, plain language.
Secret Lawyer Truth #3: The contract is for you, not the lawyer.
Contracts are tools that (should!) help make your business more efficient. They can clearly communicate what each side expects of the other, detail how and when your client will pay you, and even explain how and under what circumstances you’ll settle a dispute if one comes up.
In other words: contracts are tools for you and your client to use, not your lawyers.
If a lawyer you’re working with responds to your questions about the contract by saying that what they’ve written is “industry standard” or “don’t worry about it,” don’t get intimidated.
Instead say, “I understand that, but I need to be able to use this contract and I sought your advice and expertise so I would have a good tool for my business. If I can’t understand it, it’s not a good tool and doesn’t do what I hired you to help me with.”
If it’s the other side’s lawyer being unhelpful you can remind them, “I want to do a good job for my client, and yours. In order to do that I need to understand what I’m promising. The way this is currently written, those promises are unclear. What are some other options for expressing the same idea?”
You wouldn’t buy a car you can’t drive, so don’t use a contract you don’t understand.
Don’t settle for contracts that don’t make sense and don’t get hoodwinked into thinking that you just can’t understand contracts because you’re not a lawyer.
If you’ve hired an attorney to help you with a contract, their responsibility is to create something that works for you. Don’t be afraid to demand a contract that you understand.
Categories: Dealing with People