Words Matter When It’s Time to Draw Up Legal Documents
One of the first things you learn in law school is that words matter. Not just words, but punctuation, too! A missing or misplaced comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence. “Let’s eat, Grandma” becomes “Let’s eat Grandma.” Uh, no thanks.
In the law, words may take on very specific, technical meanings. In Georgia, for instance, an employee agreeing she will not “solicit” for business after leaving you is not the same as an employee agreeing not to “advertise” for business after leaving you. These differences can be costly.
When lawyers draw up documents, every word is there for a particular purpose. Sometimes, these purposes are not readily apparent to a non-lawyer. Frequently, these are the parts of the document that make your eyes roll back in your head and make you start snoring. However, just because they are impenetrably dense does not mean you can ignore them. Do so at your own peril!
Some of the biggest messes I see are when people decide to bypass the lawyer and do things on their own. Frequently, this involves legal phrases the person really does not understand but saw in something they signed before. People write down words and sign them, intending to create a contract.
When things go badly, a judge is going to have to decide what the parties intended. The judge, being a lawyer by training, is going to read the document and assume it expresses the intention of the parties. Proceed with caution!
I do not know how many times I have heard, “This deal is so simple we can write it on the back of a napkin.” In fact, there are very few transactions that simple.
Instead, what this generally means is there are lots of variables and possibilities for disagreement that the parties have not considered.
The old saying is “penny wise and pound foolish.” To save a little money, you can skip on having an attorney help draft your documents. If all goes well, you might get by with that.
However, if things go wrong and lawyers get involved — homemade documents end up being much more expensive than the documents drawn by professionals.