The document dilemma faced by lawyers
By Lisa Laredo
Drafting legal documents is in every lawyer’s job description, and a dilemma exists within this essential task.
In most cases, this paperwork becomes too complicated for clients to understand, so they sign off on a document they can’t fully comprehend.
Lawyers who draft complex documents, whether they be franchise agreements, commercial or other leases, mortgage standard charge terms or builders agreements of purchase and sale, wish to put into the document everything possible to protect their clients.
Lawyers acting for the recipients of these complex documents are then expected to properly advise their clients as to the contents. To do so adequately, given the general unsophisticated legal knowledge of most people, the lawyer really needs to go over every provision with the client. In almost every case, such detailed review is impossible.
First, it’s unlikely the client will want to pay for the time involved or has the ability to go through and understand every provision of the document.
Secondly, the reviewing lawyer can likely not afford to spend the necessary time to review every provision with her client.
The reviewing lawyer ends up giving the client an overview and she and her client are left hoping for the best.
Using simpler language would help, but would not make much difference. All the same provisions would still be in the documents but would be somewhat reworded. The time necessary to review would not change and the client would still not have the patience or the money to sit through a very detailed review.
The world of business and the world of law are riddled with these situations. The world is constantly changing with new rules and laws being introduced at a rapid pace. Lawyers are there to draft documents in this environment to protect their clients and give them the advantage.
The legally unsophisticated client has to settle for a brief summary of the legal implications. Even though the law holds him liable for every provision in a document he signs, he cannot possibly fully understand all he signed.
If a client is knowledgeable with finances and human resources and can fully understand what is going on, the issue is solved, however, this is not the scenario that often plays out.
For most others, the system just does not work and is more and more reliant upon government to somewhat even the playing field. Unfortunately, government is not able to remedy all the ills of the legal system.
My advice for clients is this: research and educate yourself as much as possible. Definitions of common legal words can be found online and it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with them. But most importantly, research and hire a lawyer you trust. That way, even if you don’t fully comprehend a document, you can be assured the task is in good hands.