There are a lot of times in this life where lawyers find themselves introducing needless complexity to simple human tasks. After a while lawyers become so numb to it that they it doesn’t even register that most people at parties don’t offer a 30-second spiel clarifying that they aren’t acting as a lawyer when someone tries to strike up a conversation. When we say that the law robs you of your humanity we’re not talking about representing Exxon, we’re talking about making your children sign liquidated damages agreements before throwing out their baby toys.
Few zones of humanity see more unnecessary legal meddling than the email footer. Most people conclude emails with a signature, but attorneys need to muck up the flow of the email with disclaimers and clawback edicts and privilege flags that are probably misapplied to the content. It’s not uncommon for the boilerplate below the signature to drag on longer than the email itself.
But this is a new one when it comes to boilerplate:
I DO NOT GUARANTEE THE ACCURACY OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS EMAIL. I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE CHANGES TO THE CONTENTS, AND MEANINGS, OF THIS EMAIL AT ANY TIME IN THE FUTURE.
That’s from an actual attorney email from a law firm. And we’re not going to single them out, because as lawyers it’s easy to see how someone gets to the point where they write something like this. Someone tried to pull a fast one by misinterpreted some off-the-cuff comment in an email and rather than write it off as almost assuredly an isolated event or rely upon common sense stifling future bad actors, the firm decided to just throw this into the boilerplate and call it good.
But if you’re going to stretch the limits of plain talk, why not go all the way? Just load it up with as much as you want and hope the daunting block of text wards off any inquiry.
“REMEMBER THAT MY ESSENCE CANNOT BE REDUCED TO FIXED FORM RENDERING THIS COMMUNICATION BUT A TRANSIENT MARKER OF A NOW PAST REALITY. IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING, SET IT FREE, IF IT COMES BACK TO YOU IT CONTAINED CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION AND WAS SENT IN ERROR. LIFE MOVES PRETTY FAST. IF YOU DON’T STOP TO LOOK AROUND ONCE IN A WHILE, THE CONCLUSIONS REACHED ABOVE MIGHT BE INVALIDATED BY EVOLVING PRECEDENT. ALSO NOT LICENSED IN CONNECTICUT.”
In all seriousness, real people don’t talk this way and while society expects lawyers to communicate a little differently, when the boilerplate starts to strain at the seams of basic human communication, it runs the risk of alienating the clients. Protecting your practice from disingenuous bad actors can’t reach the point where it leaves reasonable clients snickering. Take some time to reevaluate the boilerplate and make sure it mimics how people talk as much as possible.
On the other hand, clients aren’t going to read the boilerplate anyway so who cares?
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.
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