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Did You Read the Fine Print?

Maybe I should have asked whether you read any – fine or otherwise – of the document you just signed. From sales contracts to software usage agreements, from leases to financial disclosures, from contracts of employment to option awards, the odds are you did not read it. And even if you did read anything, it is likely you did not really understand it.

Why don’t we read such documents? The excuses we call reasons are many:
  • ·         We are too busy and do not have the time to read everything through;
  • ·         After all, it is just a standard form like we always use;
  • ·         I trust the drafter of the agreement to do the job right;
  • ·         I pay my lawyer to read these documents;
  • ·         The document won’t be changed so it does not make a difference if I read it;
  • ·         I don’t want to jeopardize the agreement by raising questions;
  • ·         I read an agreement like this one before;
  • ·         I do not want to appear unknowledgeable about the subject matter; and
  • ·         We will just wait until it is signed to find out what is in the agreement.

Of course, if you took the time to read over the document, you would at least be able to ask relevant questions. You could ask for clarification and, where necessary additional language and exceptions or perhaps concessions. After all, the other party wants to enter into the agreement as well.

We must remember that these documents are meant to establish how you work with someone else and what each side must do for and expect from the other. When there is a signed document, your understanding, your expectations, your wishes pretty much have no meaning beyond what the document actually provides. This could –and does – cost people much grief, expense, frustration and more when the terms are not understood at the outset.

I do not mean to say that reading a document will save you such problems. I do say it will help you to anticipate difficulties and perhaps to have a way to resolve them before they happen. You will learn more about the things you are agreeing to and will be able to help yourself and others understand and operate under the documents you sign. 

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