Let’s Learn Our Trade – Warning: A Rant

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Imagine you are the computer user of the century. There is nothing about using a computer you don’t know. [So you think.] Your friends call you day and night asking, “How do I do this; how do I do that?” Coding? – No problem. Formatting to produce a publishable book using Microsoft Word? – No problem. Manipulating data to prove or disprove human involvement in climate change, if there is such a thing? – No problem.

Then, one day, boxes from all over the world show up at your door. There are no notes, no letters, and no instructions to tell you what you’ve got. But, one of the boxes has something that looks very much like a computer case. With that clue and looking at the generality of some of the other things that were in the other boxes, your best guess, a good one, is that these are the parts for a computer. You’ve looked inside a lot of computers before. After all, your friends have had you play with some connectors; you’ve replaced a hard drive or two, even a solid state one. But, can you assemble the parts to make a working computer? Do you really, really understand how to assemble a computer? Will your proficiency in using a computer, even playing with its cables and poking around inside the case be enough for you to put all of those parts together?

Our guess is that you’ll get pretty close, but the machine won’t work. A lot of the assembly process is intuitive. Your seeing the inside of other computers will be of great assistance. You’ll recognize some parts by comparing them to what you’ve seen before. Some parts will be marked, though cryptically. There’s always the web to help. You might even realize that a part or two is missing – you look at a connector on some gizmo and there is no cable with an “end” that fits. But there are more “slots” than cards to fit in those slots and you know that not all slots get filled, but how many should be? You don’t know. Are any of the parts defective or did you just not put the machine together correctly?

You can spend a lot of time, too much in fact, “figuring it out.” You can keep fiddling with the parts and plugging the machine into an outlet until: (a) it works; (b) it doesn’t and you try again; or (c) smoke rises from your project. So, without background, you start looking at pictures on the web and try to imitate what you see. Or, you read the advice people you don’t know post on the web. Finally, the computer works or doesn’t. And, when it seems to work, you just give it away and move on to your next project. But, you never know whether it works as well as it should have worked unless smoke comes out of it at a later date and your phone rings.

It’s the same thing with a lease. You have a box of parts and you’ve seen many leases before. You really, really know some things about leases – yes, really well. But, can you really put one together from a box of parts? Do you really know if the parts fit together? Is everything there? Do the parts you’ve received (the ones you’ve inherited from the person before you – the form lease, perhaps) really work? Perhaps the boxes of lease parts you’ve received came from the other side. You’ve never seen those exact words or the way they’ve been organized. After all, it’s someone else’s hand crafted computer. Are all the parts there? Will it work in practice? Will it work as well as is needed? Will, several years from now, smoke come out of it?

We owe it to those who rely on our expertise to be experts in assembling leases. To be an expert, we need to know everything. More importantly, we need to know what we don’t know. We need to know if any parts are missing. We need to know if any parts (provisions, clauses) are defective.

Even more importantly, we owe it to ourselves to be as good as we can be. Call that pride.

For a little more than seven years, we’ve been Ruminating about real property law, mostly (but not exclusively) about retail leases. By mid-November, we will have delivered 400 blog postings – nearly a million views. Recently, we were asked if there was any single posting we think stands out above all the others. We don’t think so (though we can identify some “low points,” but won’t). But we do think there is a single theme running throughout all of our postings – “keep learning.” If any particular posting makes you say (to yourself) – “I hadn’t thought of that,” then how much more hadn’t you thought about?

Take time to read Ruminations. Read books and articles on “doing” leases or mortgages or easement agreements or whatever. Join organizations where your colleagues congregate. Collect “experts” to call or email. Attend seminars. LEARN YOUR TRADE. Recognize your shortcomings.

Have you ever wondered how some people get a perfect score on a multiple choice exam? Of the 1.7 million students who take the SAT test every year, only about 300 get the highest possible (1600) score. It isn’t just that they identified every correct answer. They also knew why each of the other choices was wrong. Sometimes, when figuring that out, they realized that their tentative choice was the “wrong” one and they were able to replace that “first” choice with the correct answer.

How often have we heard the person on the other side propose a solution, only to reject it out of hand because we “never heard that before”? To know if our approach is correct, we need to know why the alternative is not.

OK, we also know that today’s blog posting is much closer to rambling than to Ruminating. Actually. In fact, it is a disguised rant. So, we’ll apologize. It’s just that, far too often, we’ve become frustrated when the person on the other side hasn’t made the effort to learn how to put that computer, the lease, together. They know what they know. Trial and error is the rule of the day. They can copy the words, but don’t know what they mean. We want to learn, but when we ask “why” or “how,” (too often) we hear – that’s the way we do it (implicitly, how can you even question its wisdom). Ruminations has learned everything it knows from others – yes, from others – by asking “why?” Appropriate or not when we were children, getting the response: “because” isn’t helpful. We owe it to ourselves and to others to know: “Why?” – Why some things are right and why somethings are not. And, whether something is right or wrong depends on context. What is wrong for one lease is right for another.

Thank you for your patience. Even if you reject everything we’ve scribbled today as a waste of your time, please think twice before relegating these three words to the trash pile: “LEARN YOUR TRADE.”

Fear not, next week we’ll be back to substance. In particular, unless some astonishing court decision lands in our lap, we’ll be sharing some thoughts about the limitations of relying on “additional insured” status under another’s liability insurance policy.

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