Lunch at the local pizzeria today provided some entertaining people watching. My favorite table included a group of older gentlemen who were attempting to work out some kind of deal. When they got to certain portions of the deal, they would switch languages to Italian, presumably so no one would be able to pick up on what they were dealing with.
As I finished my lunch, they were wrapping up their deal negotiations and ended their discussion the way things have been handled for years: a good and proper handshake. While probably perfectly acceptable for what they were discussing, it reminded me of a few of my open cases right now where people made similar deals, but never got anything in writing, and now are trying to get their money back.
For those unlucky souls who never get their agreements in writing, the legal process can be an uphill battle, filled with intricate legal theories to try and justify the recovery of their money or items. The flip side of that coin are those who get their agreements in writing, usually drafted by an attorney, and are able to sleep much better at night knowing that their agreement is protected.
The challenge of all of this is what to do when the amount being loaned or the value of the items is too small to justify paying an attorney to draft up a formal contract. Is it better to just go with the handshake and hope? Or maybe overpay an attorney to draft a complex agreement that costs more than the money exchanging hands? It is that precise spot that many people find themselves in, which represents a big hole in the legal market from both the attorney and client standpoints.
Even if you aren’t going to go to an attorney to formalize your agreement, at least make sure you have something in writing to show that attorney later when everything goes awry.