Yes, No, Mine. Legal Knowledge for the Layperson.

“I don’t know what I don’t know.”

It’s a common lament among business clients, and it’s made me think. How can I get clients to the point where they have enough legal knowledge to know when they’re treading on legal thin ice?

Let’s start with a simple proposition. You mastered three fundamental legal elements of any business transaction by the time you were two:

The basic elements have not changed, but customers, vendors, landlords, and bankers don’t want to work with two-year-olds, however cute.

Better Legal Contracts, Better Business Transactions


“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

 -Mark Twain


Business transactions fall into common categories – and subcategories, and exceptions. Someone has probably encountered something close to your deal, broken it down into legal bits based on common principles, and developed adult language to deal with it.

The trick is to be able to distinguish between broad, well-established rules, which you will want to know, and all the subcategories and exceptions, which may apply, but for you are mental clutter.

In contracts, for example, you would want to be familiar with the elements of a contract (there are two, maybe three.) You want to know when you have a deal that can be enforced. You probably want to know when the deal has to be in writing. (I’d say always, but everyone has the customer who says, “Don’t you trust me?”)

My objective in this blog is to give the reader the knowledge needed to get a good, solid D on a law school exam question in each of the areas I’ll cover. Not enough to practice law, but enough to know when you’re in a straightforward situation and when you’re out of your depth. When you can simply fill in the standard form contract your lawyer prepared, and when you need to make a phone call.

If you like, I’ll send you the question and grade your answer.