Some bits of folk wisdom are so ingrained that it’s impossible to remember where you first heard them- stuff like “always look both ways before stepping off the curb” or “never run with scissors”. So how about you? can you remember when you were first told “always read it before you sign it!” was it in grade school? or possibly early high school? -certainly before you ever graduated I’m sure the words “READ BEFORE SIGNING” were seared into your adolescent brain. I would hazard a guess that if you know how to read, you have heard that warning.
So then why is it such a common occurrence for clients to request a document review from a lawyer of a document they’ve already signed? what part of READ BEFORE SIGNING don’t they understand?
It leads me to think that there must be a widespread misconception making the rounds on the Internet, to the effect that you can always wiggle out of a bad contract, if your lawyer, after the fact, explains that you’ve been hosed. Why else would we be inundated with requests to “hey, could you take a look at this heavy-duty contract I signed last week?-Just in case is anything bad in there?”
Then again, I wonder if the misconception stems from our consumer protection laws, which do stipulate a cooling off period to allow the rescission of certain high pressure door-to-door sales contracts. Possibly our clients believe all contracts have a cooling off period- courtesy of the Nanny State? (-some free legal advice-they don’t!)
Or possibly, we have all just been numbed into submission by the daily barrage of contracts of adhesion to which we are subjected – you want to rent the car, or book the hotel room, or access the website – then sign the contract, or click “I Agree”- no sense reading it, its not negotiable. I confess, I have been caught that way myself, with some sneaky wording in a gym membership which I hadn’t read ( although I successfully pled insanity – after all- what sane person pays good money to get sweaty?)
Whatever the root cause, there are an inordinate number of people out there blithely signing important, (and otherwise negotiable) contracts, for things like home and business purchases, or commercial leases, even separation agreements, without bothering to read or understand them.
The unpleasant task of explaining to a client that they have been very foolish, but could have averted disaster if only they had sought advice before signing is just one of the things that make a lawyer hair turn grey.
HERE ENDETH THE RANT.