Anyone who has been involved in a legal proceeding knows that the related documents are often replete with legal jargon ( often refereed to as “legalease”), and sometimes read more like a Latin lesson than a document written in English. Enter the attorney, whose job it is to pursue your rights and ensure your full understanding of these often-confusing writings, whether they be set forth in initiating court documents, papers during the litigation or in a final settlement agreement. A crucial caveat is that your attorney cannot do this alone. It is a client’s job to carefully read any document provided to him/her; to ask questions and/or for clarifications; and above all let the attorney know if he/she does not understand something in the document. Attorneys are not mind readers and do not know when a client lacks an understanding of any aspect of the litigation or document provided. Of course, the attorney should explain all aspects of the litigation and documents, but once that is accomplished, it is up to the client to voice any concerns or confusion. Remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Even if you may have posed the question previously, most attorneys understand that during stressful and emotional litigation, clients often do not recall the answer to a previously asked question or found it difficult to focus when hearing the answer, the first time.
The consequences of not fully understanding or carefully reviewing documents to be signed can be financially and otherwise costly. Often, a client will be made to review several drafts of a document prior to executing the final version, whether it be an affidavit for a motion or a Stipulation of Settlement. This can understandably be tiresome, and it is sometimes a client’s inclination to hastily scan the later drafts, without the attention and vigilance given to prior versions. The rule of thumb is to review every line of any document you sign. Once you sign a legal document, you are held to any obligations set forth therein (with the exception of those obligations that may be modified if you meet certain legal criteria).
Many post judgment litigations are commenced by individuals who failed to: diligently review documents signed; did not bother to ask questions; or wanted the litigation over so badly that they merely just acquiesced to what was put in front of him/her, only to regret it later. These individuals often do not prevail in the post judgment litigations. Courts are unimpressed with positions such as: a lack of understanding of the document signed or, the most audacious of them all…….that the party did not read the document before he/she signed it.
The importance of reviewing and understanding what you sign in your action cannot be emphasized enough. If you fail to do so, it will be tua periculum.