How to be a lawyer: Read Everything!

One of the simplest lessons a young lawyer has to learn regarding how to be a lawyer is a simple but often ignored rule: Read everything in an agreement before you sign the document! Whether it be in the courtroom or in the board room, lawyers constantly negotiate verbal terms of business deals or settlement terms for law suits. These terms are then memorialized in a written agreement.

In the earlier years of my practice I negotiated a lot of settlements for simple lawsuits. I can confidently tell you that of the 1000 or so settlements I made only approximately 50% of the lawyers read the negotiated agreement, and 1% of pro se parties (parties not represented by a lawyer) read the settlement agreement!

In no way did I ever attempt to be misleading or “get one by on the other side”, but I would always laugh to myself when someone didn’t read the agreement. Again, I am an honest lawyer and I would never include something in an agreement that wasn’t part of the terms of the settlement agreement. However, everyone makes mistakes! I am glad that people generally feel that they can trust me but to not even read a legally binding agreement for mistakes or misunderstanding of terms is plain stupid… further for lawyers it borders on malpractice and you as the offending attorney can be held liable for the damages you caused your client by your failure to read an agreement.

When you first graduate from law school you may feel silly admitting you don’t understand part of an agreement. Perhaps a more experienced lawyer may pressure you to sign an agreement (either because of a scheduling rush or because he/she is trying to take advantage of you). Do not feel stupid or inexperienced to ask questions!!!! It is your job to protect your client. The easiest way to do this when everyone is at the negotiating table is to simple ask to redraft the language to clarify the terms, or you can propose a hypothetical situation to your adversary and ask where same is addressed in the agreement.

So to review the lessons you learned in this article about how to be a lawyer: 1) Read every word in any agreement you or your client must sign.2) If you have questions do not be afraid to ask them and discuss same with your adversary!

If you remember the above, you will already have a leg up on the other law students!




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