Why It’s Important to Read the Fine Print – Always

My second job as an attorney was working for a large law firm doing “big deals”. (My first job was as a judicial clerk for a federal district judge for one year.) I worked on bringing the Tempur-Pedic company public with an IPO (initial public offering). To be clear, my work was limited to proofreading hand-written changes coming back from the printers until 2 or 3 in the morning and other menial tasks. However, I learned great lessons about doing things thoroughly, every time, no matter the stakes.

I had a lot of mentors who were trained the same way, and I carried that training with me into my own practice. I’ve never been comfortable with short cuts — in practice or in life.

That said, it’s always fashionable to complain about attorneys fees, how much “extra” work attorneys do than is necessary, and how the industry could use reform like “standardized contracts”. Since my practice is almost exclusively with fixed-fee pricing, I’m insulated from most of the complaints about doing too much work (and I like to think we offer great value for the amount we charge) on a file. Regardless of the case, I always do the work that’s required, and read all of the fine print. It’s an important part of the work of an attorney.

 

Here is an article about a family that failed to read the fine print (or have their attorney read the fine print, or hire an attorney to read the fine print). With assets in excess of $100 million, the family at the heart of this story is stuck keeping their money with a certain trust company because the fine print requires that all beneficiaries (over 90 of them) agree to move the money. The trust company has only made two percent on the investment, which, with that much money to invest, qualifies as “underperforming” by any standard.

The story doesn’t tell us why they didn’t read the fine print but I’m pretty sure there was no lawyer involved or they would have included that lawyer in the lawsuit.

Sometimes it’s hard for clients to accept that good legal work takes time. Often, clients find it frustrating that good legal work requires thoroughness, which can lead to costing more in legal fees. In this case, reading the fine print would have avoided a real mess.

Here’s a question to ask yourself next time you are about to sign something that contains fine print:

Why do you figure that fine print is in there?

I’ll venture a guess that the other party’s attorney made them put that fine print there. Maybe you should have your own lawyer read it — what do you think?

Posted by Victor Medina, Medina Law Group & The New Jersey Estate Planning Center