Last week my wife and I celebrated 36 years of marriage, and we toured New Mexico. If there was a sight to see we saw it, or did our best to do. Of particular note we visited a number of Native American sites such as Salmon Ruins, Chimney Rock and Chaco Canyon. At each of these locations are the remains of massive stone buildings built by a people who inhabited the area over a thousand years ago. While we know that some of their descendants inhabit the region today, we do not know much about the people who lived so long ago. Certainly among some of their descendants their memory lives on in oral traditions, but the details about the lives of these ancient peoples are lost to us although researchers are doing their best to make educated inferences as to how they lived. But because of the scanty record there is a healthy debate about who exactly these people were. I see similar issues (albeit not healthy) in my practice, particularly in business matters wherein the records are sometimes so poor that it is almost impossible to determine what was agreed to and what was not. In such cases the disputes frequently break down to a game of “he said, she said.” For example, I had a prospective client come see me about a business matter; she had drawn up a contract from a model she had found and had proceeded to purchase a business using it. There is now an issue as to what was actually agreed upon with regards to the purchase of the business. What is particularly bothersome is the client confessed she had not understood a number of the terms in the model agreement she had used. This is now a huge issue because the case rests on the definition of a term; consequently, this woman is potentially out several thousand dollars.
In legal documents words do have meaning, and sometimes multiple ones, so it is critical that key terms are defined to the satisfaction of everyone concerned. And I will guarantee that if a second meaning can be found someone will use it if it is to their advantage. As Robert Plant sang so long ago,
“There’s a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.”
Understand that when you see an attorney, whether for divorce, child custody, business matters or a will, you are not paying for the documents; you are paying for the knowledge that attorney has. As I tell many a client, “I don’t do accounting/real estate/fill in the blank; don’t you practice law.” I do not say this to be unkind, but because what you do not know can hurt you, and I have experience and training in the legal field. When in doubt get legal advice. What you pull off the internet can have disastrous consequences if you are not careful.
As I have said before, good agreements make for good relationships. Any business relationship you are in is only as good as the understandings between the parties; make sure they encompass what you think. Contact us if we can help.