Understanding Legalese: The Language of Contracts

We are all guilty of not reading the terms and conditions every time we download mobile applications (apps), enter a website, or power up a new video game and software. The long block of text seems never-ending and quite boring to read, if you can even spare the attention span. In fact, they

might have been designed that way.

A consumer rights group took more than 31 hours to publicly read the terms of 33 popular apps like Netflix and Facebook in a live-streamed event. If printed, the terms amounted to hundreds of pages with an average of 250,000 words. That’s the same word count as the Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix without the exciting tales of magic and adventure. Besides, who has only 33 apps on their phones these days?

Of translations and patience

Legal professionals have mastered the art of deciphering and writing of this so-called legalese whether they’re conveyancing lawyers from Townsville or criminal justice attorneys in Los Angeles. They review contracts, much like the terms and conditions we regularly see, with patience and an eye for detail, because they understand how dangerous it is to gloss over agreements and hope for the integrity of the other person. A contract outlines the expectations, obligations, and consequences of a relationship between parties – providing clarity and protection.

Disputes usually arise when there is no written agreement that will guide the partnership or when translations of the document differ, in which a third party comes in. Most of the time, contracts also include dispute resolution clauses like mediation or arbitration. If your lawyer is good, they have already identified all possible risks and scenarios, and included provisions favoring your well-being in the agreement. However, if you opted to defer legal guidance, you might find yourself scratching your head trying to be fluent in a language that takes years of studying and training.

Of bare necessities and knowledge

businessman and businesswoman are shaking hands and exchanging folder after agreement was reached

Learning how to make sense of legalese, even without a legal background, is a handy skill to develop. Contracts are everywhere in the modern world, from renting an apartment, starting a job or even adopting a pet from a shelter. It is better to be aware of the following common parts of a contract, so you won’t be caught off guard by pesky provisions down the line. Though, getting a lawyer is still your safest bet.

  • Purpose and scope – This answers the why of the contract. What is it that both parties want to happen and to what extent? The purpose should be written clearly and succinctly.
  • Parties involved – Who are bound to this contract? Names and addresses of the parties are included and usually found at the beginning of the document.
  • Rights and responsibilities – It is vital to outline who is responsible for what services and the expectations anticipated to be delivered by each party. Knowing your rights and responsibilities can protect you when things go wary.
  • Termination causes – Knowing the exit strategy can spell the difference in continuing to be bound by an unreliable partner or cutting losses while still manageable. You’ll also understand what not to do that can endanger the life of the contract.
  • Hold harmless and indemnification provisions – When you hold someone harmless or agree to indemnify someone in a contract, it means that you can’t sue the other person in cases of liability or loss that may happen. Make sure the same level of protection included in this provision applies to you.

Reviewing agreements like contracts and terms and conditions can seem like decoding an alien language or reading a boring book. However, due diligence and effective contract review can save you unnecessary trouble and risk in the future.

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