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It's All Talk

You don't have to tear your hair out every time you read a contract that's chock-full of legalese.

This story appears in the May 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

We can speculate about why legal language is so opaque. But whether legalese is a conspiracy against the laity, the result of institutional inertia--or something else entirely--really doesn't matter. Most contracts are written in this bulky dialect and, like it or not, we all have to deal with it. Of course, for the well-financed deal-maker, legalese is nothing more than an annoyance--their attorneys take care of it. But if you're not budgeted for professional help, or if your deal is too small to justify legal fees, what should you do?

For one thing, don't despair. Read the paperwork anyway. At least you can double-check material terms: how much, what, where and so on. Even the best professional can miss something; another pair of eyes doesn't hurt. Then, do your best. When you must read agreements without the help of a lawyer, follow these rules:

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