I came across an interesting article recently that made me think about how us lawyers use words and how normal use words. A wrong word can mean the difference between a happy customer and a law suit.
Some of the more common ones are as follows:
1. Partner/partnering. Partner I get. Partner generally tends to be a legal relationship between two individuals, whether it is a personal family relationship, or it is a relationship between two businessmen working together with a common goal to share profits. But, the current trend is to use the word partnering, which means no such thing. In fact, the parties to a “partnering” relationship probably want to avoid that implication. And if you conduct business informally, your customers may make assumptions when you refer to your partner that the two of you are actual partners as opposed to simply two professionals working together. The solution is easy, be clear!
2. Strategic alliance. More networking/marketing speak! These are the latest fun things that one must have in order to build one’s business. But how far does that strategic alliance extend. Does it extend as far as a joint venture or is it simply a number of individuals working together because they know each others strengths and weaknesses and can refer clients to the best possible advice from a professional perfectly suited to their needs?
3. Agent. The use of the word agent has been grossly abused, particular in the financial services sector over the last number of years. Indeed I came across one Mortgage Brokerage company who make all their sales executives “agents”, purely for tax purposes. While not illegal and undoubtedly helpful to the owners of that company, it certainly is misleading to those who use their services. An Agent’s principal relationship will make the Principal liable for the acts of the agent and thus any law suit from a customer will be against both parties. However, if the agent is only acting in referring business and in no other fashion, it is questionable as to whether they are actually agents.
I can think my way around in circles on all of the above, but it really emphasises that you can’t be too careful with the written word, carelessness will cost you.