The lawyers have made liars of all of us

September 2020

How many times have you clicked on a button that says “I have read and accept the terms of use that accompanies this product or service”? How many times were you telling the truth?

I recently skimmed what I think was five thousand words (about 15 typed pages), in flyspeck gothic, that Bank of America wanted me to agree to in order to read my credit card bill on-line. It took me three or four minutes just to scroll through the endless terms. It would have taken an hour, and a magnifying glass, to read it.

So, I lied. I clicked the box that said I had read it. And if anything should ever go wrong with the product, and I made a claim, the lawyers would whip out the terms and tell me I had agreed that they were not liable for whatever it is I was claiming.

If I said I never read the thing, they’d say I had clicked the box saying I had read it, and if I was lying about that, what else might I be lying about?

I don’t like to lie; and I really don’t like being called a liar. But the truth is, I am. I have no choice. I do not have the patience to read these ridiculously long documents, and if I did read them, I doubt I would understand them.

Lawyers, in their zeal to protect their clients, have gone beyond anything normal humans can cope with. So, to get through the day, we turn to lying. And once we’ve found out how easy it is, we’re tempted do more of it.

For about ten years, I did counseling for people 60 and older considering a non-profit reverse mortgage designed for low and moderate income seniors. During that time, I attended maybe 30 closings. Every year, there were more documents, more things to sign (I think the last close I attended required more than 30 signatures). If anyone getting a mortgage had actually tried to read the documents they were signing, a closing would have taken all day.

So, the organization for which I worked required seniors to bring their own lawyers to the closing. The lawyers were familiar with the documents and explained them, briefly, in plain English to their clients before they signed them.

Why can’t we do something like that with all the documents we have to sign?

Many years ago I remember that some smart state official decided that auto insurance policies could be rendered in English, and he ordered the insurance companies to do that. They produced a simple, easy to understand document that greatly pleased policyholders without doing any harm to insurers.

It had sections like:

“These are the things we pay for.”

“These are some of the things we don’t pay for.”

Why can’t we do that sort of thing with all of these documents. Just today I was asked to take part in a research group. There was an agreement for me to sign. It started with “Highlights” in plain English. It pointed out that these highlights were not the whole agreement and gave me a link to the whole thing.

They asked me to sign that I had read the highlights and that I understood how to access the whole agreement, which was the controlling document.

I gladly checked that box. I was telling the truth again!

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply