Doing It Right. Better Than “Good Enough”? Cheaper, Certainly.
My working day always includes the preparation of Notarial Certificates. A well drafted Certificate should be as concise as is consistent with absolute clarity of meaning.
That being the case, I find that one result of my daily quest to write statements which are clear and not ambiguous, is personally to become hyper-sensitively alert to everyday ambiguities in ordinary speech.
Louise has learned that if she is to ask me “Would you like a tea or a coffee?” she will get an answer “Yes thanks”. It is very much to the credit of her lovely nature that even so, she goes on to ask me “OK. Please tell me then, Which would you like?”
A cartoon in yesterday’s paper showed a man in a computer shop asking the assistant “How long to mend this computer” and being answered “Half an hour”
Half an hour later he was back asking “Is it mended?”
No, Why would it be? “You only asked how long it would take to mend it”.
New usages become accepted almost overnight: it becomes hard to remember that in the real 1950s, as opposed to the telly version, no-one would ask a waiter “Can I get a Coffee?” [Durr – the waiter gets it, if you ask to have it].
But in 2015 only a Notary would assume that the customer is actually asking for a go on the espresso machine. Even though the dictionary would support me.
And if it is cool [it probably was in 1987, I am very old] to say Bad when you mean Good, why not Up when you mean Down. Perhaps an Air Traffic Controller could explain.
Apparently, “I could care less” means “I couldn’t care less”. “I am waiting on the train” means neither “I am bring the train a cup of tea and a biscuit” nor “For some reason the train I am sitting in is not moving”. Oh No. It means “I am waiting for a train”.
O Tempora! O Mores!
To my calcified way of thinking, there is sloppy thinking, and there is precision. With sloppy thinking, who knows what can go wrong? With precision, you might make the other side raise their metaphorical eyebrow and call you a pedant, but you are unlikely to waste time in arguing later about what your meaning actually was.
Anyway, thought for today, I have found some case law to support those Non-Notaries among you who consider “nearly-right” to be “good-enough”.
In the case of Williams -v- Redcard, a written Contract was drawn between the parties. On the Plaintiff side [the Sellers in the Contract] there were human Directors of a Limited Company in respect of their personal leasehold interests in the Contract Property, and also the Company of which they were the Directors, in respect of the Company’s freehold interest in it.
At the end of the last paragraph of the Contract, the two Directors signed it.
The other side refused to honour the Contract, and in their defence stated that the document did not show that all of the Sellers had signed. Since each human had signed only once, the Buyers argued that therefore either the human Directors had not signed it or the Company had not signed it, because each Director should have signed it twice. That is to say, signed it once each wearing their “human” hats, and then also once each in respect of the Company’s execution.
Yes of course, the only certain wording would have been to do exactly that – Do it like a Notary would – add an Attestation and Testimonium clause for each human person, and a third for the Company.
To cut this Long Story short – and if you want to read the long story link here is a transcript of the final appeal judgement – the Judge told the Buyers – in my paraphrase – “not to be so Notarial”.
OK, a result for imprecision, the “It doesn’t matter what you’ve written, we can see what you meant” school of drafting.
Two points though.
First, this was a Contract, and I suspect the result would have been otherwise if the document in question had been, or had needed to have been, a Deed.
And second, the decision of the Court took two years to obtain, took four hearings in the High Court and then one final Hearing before the Court of Appeal. Whichever side is paying for all that won’t get much change from their sixpence, to say nothing of the time, cost and worry of being involved in contentious litigation.
So my advice, if anyone should want it, is – Slow down. Do it Properly – It’s the work of two minutes to finish off a Contract properly and avoid two years’ worth of fighting, worry and delay.
As the Judge said – Sometimes it may just be worth stating the obvious.
Assuming that is, that you can actually recognise the “obvious” when it is hidden amongst all of today’s linguistic white noise.
Cue for a Song? It Is Obvious
For all of your Notarial Certificates, with Clarity and for use all around the World, do get in touch. As ever, it’s AtkinsonNotary Limited at E7 Joseph’s Well Leeds, 0113 8160116 and firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com We shall be very pleased to see you.