There are many different hats a lawyer wears: confidant, negotiator, litigator, and occasionally, editor. After all, every step in the practice of law from filing a quick brief to writing a complex contract is something that could, in the future, be litigated about. Writing in clear and correct English is important.
A contract written by a lawyer is, in essence, a document that explains in detail the arrangement two or more parties have reached in regards to a certain subject. While it may have a few legal terms that seem abstract on the surface, they’re generally well written and thought-through documents.
If you think this attention to grammar isn’t important, especially in business, just ask the group of dairy delivery drivers in Maine who, for want of an Oxford or serial comma, recently received a ruling in their favor and the resulting overtime pay. In a win much-circulated on social media (and inevitably shared by your friend who teaches English), these dairy drivers were able to confirm that courts pay attention to grammar in contracts to determine the meaning of the document. To quote the Circuit Court Judge, “[f]or want of a comma, we have this case.”
In the case, which was litigated in the state of Maine, the law states that certain activities are not eligible for overtime pay including “[t]he canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) agricultural produce; (2) meat and fish products; and (3) perishable foods.” The argument made by the dairy drivers was that, because there was no comma between packing and distributing, the sentence implied that overtime pay was not available for packing, whether for shipping or distributing. If that was true, then the actual driving and distribution of the goods was eligible for overtime pay.
This is the kind of grammar detail that can make a major difference in a contract. Thoughtless wording in a business arrangement or an estate can have a major, unintended impact.
For assistance with every kind of document, reach out to the attorneys at Virtus Law Firm at 612.888.1000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our team takes the time to get to know your specific interests and situation and makes sure that the documents we draft are up-to-date legally and will accomplish your end goals. We pay attention to the details that matter.