News Flash: Read Before You Sign

read-contract-attorney

Attorneys get paid the big bucks to handle high pressure situations and make sure their client gets the best possible outcome.

This can lead to (ahem) slightly inflated egos and slight overconfidence. In addition, most attorneys work in a niche practice, which leads to repetitive work. That can lead to laziness. Which can lead to big problem.

The next time you sign a document or pleading, make sure you actually read it.

Don’t trust anyone

I do my best to create reasonable relationships with opposing counsel. Of course, there are always people that I just don’t get along with.

Regardless of whether I have a good working relationship with them, I still read everything and anything that requires my signature. Do I trust them? Sure. Do I believe with 100% certainty that neither they nor their assistant made a typo? Absolutely not.

Heck, I’ve even had opposing counsel call me out on that. They send over a document and I tell them I’ll take a look, only to get “what, don’t you trust me by now?” Sure, but I’m still going to read it.

On more than one occasion I’ve requested a change to something. Most of the time the other side fesses up to sending the wrong version, or forgetting to make the previously requested change, or they throw someone else under the bus.

Do I trust them? Sure. Do I trust a document is exactly the way I want it? Nope. Will I ever just sign without reading? No way.

Read everything (then read it again)

It’s shockingly disturbing how many attorneys don’t read what they sign (at least before they sign it).

Twice this week I’ve had opposing counsel send me a signed settlement agreement, and then attempt to add another term in the cover letter. Something like “you cannot do Thing A until you have done Thing B.” If they had read the settlement agreement, they would understand that I specifically negotiated the ability to do Thing A whenever I want. Which really makes me wonder if they read the agreement before they signed it.

Another attorney that I know told me a story about a real estate contract they wanted to walk away from. When they attempted to do so, they were informed they could walk away, but they would have to forfeit a significant down payment. The attorney admitted that they had not read the purchase agreement very carefully. This also happens to be an attorney that I have a large amount of respect for.

Maybe I’m crazy, maybe I’m anal, or maybe I just have too much time on my hands, but I read everything (usually twice). Not only do I read it, but I make sure I understand what it means. And if I don’t, I make changes to clarify it.

“I didn’t read that part” is not a good argument

You can make that argument, but it’s not a very good one.

Could you actually stand up in court and tell a judge your client should not be bound by Term X because you didn’t read that part of the agreement? I mean, you’ve got nothing to lose at that point, but hopefully you would have already notified your malpractice carrier that a claim is coming.

I had opposing counsel tell me that once after my client accepted a Rule 68 offer of judgment. They wanted to back out because they made a drafting error. I felt bad for them. But it wasn’t my call, it was my client’s decision, and they had no interest in revoking their acceptance.

That resulted in opposing counsel threatening a motion to vacate because of all the issues this was causing. While the motion never happened, I was looking forward to hearing opposing counsel explain why they had not read their own offer (which was two pages long).

Heck, I even re-read my Lawyerist posts at least twice before publishing them. So the next time you’re about to sign something, or send it over to opposing counsel, take a few extra minutes to look it over and make sure everything is a-ok.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danmoyle/9237786653/)

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  • Tom

    ???????, ?? ????????. Trust, but verify.