Since there's a trial on, I will refrain from saying much about the Bridgecorp boss, and for now I won't be commenting on whether he deserves anyone's sympathies for the plight he finds himself in.
If I were to take pity on the troubles of a generic finance company boss in trouble with the law, though, it would not be because he failed to read a bunch of documents that he should have understood intimately. That's what they get paid the big money for.
But Little's post is not really about finance companies. It's about legal documents. Little apparently doesn't read 'em.
His attitude is the sort that keeps lawyers like me in gravy:
Modern life is so complicated that no amount of terms and conditions can possibly do what they claim to. Consequently, the world stumbles along as it always has - relying on trust and human nature, not Clause 39b, to get things done.There's only one word that does justice to Little's analysis: utter bollocks. Okay, two words then.
If someone wants to break a contract they will do so. No matter how thoroughly you try to shield yourself with the armour of small print, what matters is whether the parties involved can be relied on. Most people can be. Others cannot.
Most legal disputes I've been involved with (hint: more than a couple) have not involved someone trying to do the dirty on someone else. In most cases one of the parties to the contract has just failed to understand what the other expected from the deal. More often than not this is because someone didn't bother to read the contract. Or they decided they didn't need a contract. They figured it would save them a few dollars.
This is a false economy, which is why in these lean economic times lawyers still manage to do okay. Fixing a legal f**kup can cost 50 times what avoiding the f**kup in the first place would have.
When you're online buying movie tickets or even clicking to accept Apple's latest set of terms and conditions you're unlikely to run into bother, because thousands if not millions of people have also clicked them, and if these corporations were going to come to your door demanding your first-born it's a fair bet that some consumer advocate would have blown the whistle by now. It just isn't practical to read all of these terms we're asked to accept daily.
But if as part of a job you're doing for someone you get asked to sign their terms and conditions, you're not being particularly clever if you just shrug your shoulders and say "well what's the worst that could happen?"
Paul Little is a writer. I work with writers, artists and other creative people. For obvious reasons they usually want to protect their copyright and other rights in the work they undertake for others. Even if they choose to assign the copyright to others, it will usually be with some conditions.
And yet those "standard" terms and conditions writers and artists are frequently asked to sign, and that Mr Little can't be bothered reading, will more often than not assign all copyright to the commissioning party, require the author of the work to waive all moral rights in the work (such rights include the right to be identified as the author of the work, and to object to derogatory treatment of the work), and give the author no right to themselves copy or publish the work (this means that if the author puts a copy of the work on their personal website or online portfolio, or wants to reuse it for some other project, they might be infringing copyright).
Despite Mr Little apparently never bothering to read the legal documents he is presented with, he claims that legal documents are meant to be misunderstood by the lawyers who draft them. The idea that lawyers deliberately write things in an obscure and unreadable style so that nobody can understand a word of it might appeal to the broad prejudice people have against lawyers, but it is mostly false. Contrary to popular belief the legal profession is not made up entirely of rogues and scoundrel, and (shock!) most lawyers do at least try and do their best for their clients.
Unfortunately, for a lot of lawyers their best isn't good enough. Plain English doesn't come naturally to some of them, because they way they write was beaten into them at law school, and the longer you are in the game the more difficult it is to change your writing style. Most don't set out to baffle or befuddle.
Now lawyers who don't draft in plain English should no longer expect to get away with it. There's no excuse for being pompous, 100-plus word sentences are not okay, and there is never a good reason to use "whereas" in a legal document.
If your lawyer doesn't get it then dump them. Don't assume they are being tricky and clever. There are times when a particularly obscure form of words has to be used in a document, because it will have a particular legal meaning. Generally, though, people who draft in "legalese" are not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. The wooliness afflicts them as much as their readers.