Words Are The Skin Of A Living Thought

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“A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.” [Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 418 (1918).] We have loved that quote for nearly 40 years. It tells a lot about the agreements we write.

Consider the word: “maintain.” We looked at how web-based dictionaries define it. According to www.merriam-webster.com, it means: “to keep in an existing state (as of repair, efficiency, or validity).” https://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary offers that “maintain” means to: “look after something: to keep a machine, building, etc. in good condition by checking and repairing it regularly.” www.collinsdictionary.com similarly offers: “If you maintain a road, building, vehicle, or machine, you keep it in good condition by regularly checking it and repairing it when necessary.” www.lexico.com (powered by Oxford) agrees when it tells us that “maintain” means to: “keep (a building, machine, or road) in good condition by checking or repairing it regularly.” [Read more…]

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Why? Why Not?

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Many have a tradition of making (and breaking) resolutions at this time of year. In fact, many have a tradition of making (and breaking) the same resolutions every year. So, why not try a new one this time?

Ruminations suggests that we all resolve to ask two questions, over and over: “Why?” and “Why not?” Let’s stop mindlessly copying and pasting from documents in our files. Let’s start by reading them carefully, something we think most of us haven’t done for a long time, if ever. We’re not just suggesting that the provisions be read as if being proofread. Instead, let’s really read them. Why does this work this way? Why wouldn’t it work another way? [Read more…]

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Knowledge Is Power. Get Some.

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There is a story about a brilliant legal scholar who, after penning an outstanding legal analysis, would turn it over to his students for review and editing. He was asked why he would have young students do the editing instead of doing the work himself. After all, what could they know that he didn’t? How could they, even collectively, know better than he could know? He had a simple response: his students, at that moment, were engaged in the process of learning the very subject matter in the paper. Because their learning was “active,” they were more knowledgeable at that moment. The information was fresh in their minds. [Read more…]

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Don’t Believe What I Told You Clauses

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Here’s a story with a few different lessons. One aspect of it won’t be of great utility to our readers, so we’ll get it out of the way right now. The tenant in this story appeared to sign a lease without counsel and without fully reading it. We don’t think that aspect casts any shade on the lessons we’ll be covering, but keep the tenant’s approach in mind as you read the rest of today’s blog posting.

The owner of a successful chain of quick-service, ethnic restaurants developed a new concept – a mall restaurant that would sell gourmet hot dogs. W.C. Fields might have called those “Gourmet Tube Steaks,” but that’s for another industry’s blogs. He honed in on a large mall, one that only had three remaining spaces in what appeared to be its food court (though the court never explicitly identified it as such). One of the existing tenants in that food court was a well-known, national, premium hamburger quick-service restaurant. No, it wasn’t the one with the golden arches. Although that hamburger restaurant sold hot dogs, they were only a sideline. So, this was of no concern to the owner’s gourmet hot dog plans. [Read more…]

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Maybe A Certificate Of Insurance Is Actually Worth Something

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By now, almost everyone knows that an Acord Certificate of Insurance isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. [Click HERE if you need to see why they think so.] Why, however, “almost”? Who doesn’t know that? Well, that would be the Supreme Court of Washington. A little while ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal one) wasn’t sure about Washington state law, so it “certified” that question to the State of Washington’s highest court. Certifying such a question is when a federal court poses a question of pure law to a state’s highest level court, asking it: “what is your state’s law.” [Read more…]

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We, The Real Estate Professionals, Are Fighting The Last War(s)

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We’re thinking of renaming the Ruminations blog: Incoherencies. Not really, but today’s non-technical posting would sure support such a name change. [We also rejected a change to Ramblings, but only because that would give fuel to all of those who have tried to pin that moniker on us.] Here we go. Fortunately for readers, today’s blog posting will be short (for Ruminations).

The Times They Are A Changin’ – by Robert Zimmerman – has these lyrics:

Come writers and critics

Who prophesize with your pen

And keep your eyes wide

The chance won’t come again [Read more…]

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Who Wrote Your Lease, Loan Agreement, Or Other Document?

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“A committee is a cul-de-sac into which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled” — Sir Barnett Cocks. Much the same can be said about the documents we read and, sadly, write. Sir Cocks didn’t necessarily mean only that ideas were strangled to death. We want to think he also was thinking about damaged survivors, the ones that survived, but with a life-long injury.

Think about the process we follow to create a written agreement, whether that is a lease, an easement, a loan agreement or any of the others we, Ruminators, can list. In most cases, we start with a form written by predecessors. The words in those forms aren’t “ours.” The “voice” isn’t “ours.” In some cases, we cut and paste from a selection of related forms, each with its own voice. Then, we modify this “base” document, adapting it to the deal in front of us. In simple cases, we fill in some blanks, delete some provisions, and add a few. In others, we make significant changes, some to the very core or philosophy of what the form’s original authors had in mind. Our additions might have been written solely from our own thoughts; they are never tabula rasa (def.: an absence of preconceived ideas or predetermined goals); they never are. In fact, our additions often are snippets from something else we or others have written. [Note that we’ve written “authors,” not just author. That’s because our selected foundational document or document very likely was put together in the same way we are describing.] [Read more…]

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Insurance Proceeds: Use Them Or Lose Them

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When it comes to some property insurance proceeds, the tag line is: “Use it or lose it.” Most agreements such as leases and mortgages, even poorly written ones, call for one party or the other (or both) to carry property insurance for “replacement cost.” [By the way, “full replacement cost” isn’t one barleycorn larger than plain, old “replacement cost.” A full quart of milk takes up no more space than a lowly quart of milk. And, it isn’t “replacement value,” it is “replacement cost.”] But, “replacement cost” doesn’t mean that the insurer goes out and writes a check for what is determined to be the damaged property’s replacement cost, even if the property is totally destroyed. The insured only gets paid for the cost of what is actually repaired. Note that we’ve just written “repaired,” not “replaced,” even though the coverage is called “replacement” cost. That’s because “replacement cost” is a limit, not the amount that is going to be written on the check. [Read more…]

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