Monday, March 01, 2010

Back to the Basics

I’ve mentioned over the years that I practice a boring offshoot of law – most of my clients are in some way involved in the construction business. Most of what I do concerns contracts, statutes and regulations, their drafting, interpretation and arguing about.

Over the years I’ve learned that something I learned in grade school is of great help in figuring out what an insurance or government contract “means.” Diagramming. If you are old enough, you remember writing a sentence and drawing lines to show nouns, verbs, etc. The same concept works for contracts.

My exercise this morning and the early part of the afternoon was to take a contract, an incorporated regulatory clause, a set of drawings and a set of technical specifications, all of which conflicted, in substance and as to method for resolving conflicts in the provisions. The answer is worth some significant bucks.

So, I took out a piece of paper and divided it into four columns, one for each type of document, and put the conflicting provisions next to each other. Then I applied each of the conflicting methods of interpretation to the substantive conflicts, wending my way through the maze.

One path through is good for my client, the other, not so much.

To provide a bookend to my antiquated method of the practice of law, I actually have to go to a law library and root through real, live books because the legal rules for choosing which rules of interpretation to use (your head hurt yet? mine does) are in and of themselves esoteric and not to be found in the online resources I have. I hope I remember how to use a card catalogue, though that is online.


fermicat said...

I find those methods are helpful in my job as well. I created a big table to synthesize some new and old test protocols. The big table made it easy to see what had been changed, what was no longer required, and how many new tests must be done.

Lifehiker said...

Stuff that makes your head hurt usually pay well! Hope the rules end up in your client's must be hard to have the client pay to be told they're out of luck.

The Curmudgeon said...

I like books. I like multi-volume treatises with at least one volume of index and lots and lots of pocket parts. There is still nothing better than the Mark One Eyeball for finding a relevant precedent... and I say this despite the fact that I send a King's Ransom to Thomson West every month for Westlaw.

But even though I parse insurance contracts for a living I can not imagine diagramming sentences. I learned how, of course: Sr. Lucilla insisted we all learn back in the 5th grade. But I have mostly suppressed these memories.

Although, right now, I am breaking out in a cold sweat.....

Dave said...

As it turns out, after some wandering through multi-volume reporters, with a two volume index and pocket parts and supplements (ASBCA), the client is probably OK.

I vaguely remember liking diagramming way back then.

This as a special for Curmudgeon: for some reason I've always loved Art. 2 and hated Art. 9 of the UCC. Same sort of thing, but 2 made sense to me and 9 never did.

The Curmudgeon said...

Never 'loved' Article 2, but more or less understood it. Never understood Article 9 at all. But in law school -- I got a 'C' (which stood in that case for Cold Sweating it out all the way) -- in Sales and an 'A' in Secured Transactions.


A practitioner taught the Sales course -- and it was his first time through teaching. Actually I did fairly well in that course: Nearly everyone else dropped out. But in Secured Transactions, the prof was a former dean in his last semester. My father had been one his students. My grade -- and everyone else's -- was a retirement gift from the retiree.

Dave said...

To trade law school stories, we divided Commercial law into Sales, Art. 5, 6 and 9 and then a second course for 3 and 4.

The final for the first course had a question worth 20% of the grade on 9 as the last question. I thought about writing something using buzz words in answer and then decided not. I saw the professor a few days later and she asked me why I had skipped it. I honestly told her I had no clue and thought I had pulled through on the other questions. She agreed, telling me that I'd have gotten the book award had I written a few sentences with buzzwords in them.

Qaro said...

Sounds kind of neat!

Dave said...

Thanks for stopping by Quaro.