I recently wanted to make a donation online. As usual in these litigious times, there was a disclaimer that I had to read. Since this was a respectable organization I decided I’d better do it if I was claiming I had. Of course it was long and boring—lawyers talk to each other like academics do—but what struck me along about clause 6 is how these agreements suddenly go into ALL CAPS. That seems to imply—but I’m no lawyer—that the rest of the agreement is less important. Were it ever to come to court, would the judge say “Well, this part is clearly shouting, so you should’ve paid attention to it.” Do lawyers need to resort to using all caps to make their point? When do emojis start entering contracts?
When I was little I considered being a lawyer. I’ve got a good head for rules and a fair reasoning ability. My mother told me I was too honest to be a lawyer, and that dream died on the cutting-room floor. Well, not exactly died. I still think about it. Never seriously enough to consider law school, but I am still legally minded. Those sections of the Bible that have rules and regulations made sense to me. You may not like them, but it’s best to have it in black-and-white. These are the laws by which you live. The rest is interpretation. You might expect the ten commandments to be in all caps, but they’re not. Perhaps they’ve been a bit crowded by the other stuff I’ve been cramming into my head over the years, but rules are rules, are they not?
Isn’t it somewhat disturbing that legal process resorts to shouting for the part they really want to apply? We all know, at some level, that even contracts are negotiable. Even after being signed. It comes down to whether the party of the first part really believes a violation is worth suing the party of the second part. In other words, it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. Contracts, after all, are promises on paper. Not everyone keeps their promises. And what does it say about us that we expect the party of the second part to do a, b, and c. OH YES, AND X, Y, AND Z? Something secret is being said here, and it’s something only a lawyer would understand. Or maybe those who regularly issue contracts.