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In our industry, it can feel like there’s no end to the paperwork involved in establishing and maintaining client relationships.  And while we far more enjoy getting down to the business of financial planning with our clients than having that relationship stripped of its personal nature by tedious documentation, most of us have come to accept it as part of our daily lives.

That said, it doesn’t mean we can make incremental changes to improve this necessary evil.  Recently, TAAG made a decision to modify the front page of it’s client service agreements.  While much of the document is industry standard language about the inherent risks of investing, how assets are held and the like, the first page of the agreement was a real opportunity to define what our clients should expect from a relationship with TAAG in plain English.  In this week’s guest blog, we suspect famed author, blogger and speaker Seth Godin may be spying on us as he shares his thoughts on the respect we show when we use clear language.

(from Seth Godin’s blog dated 12/18/2014. Click here for the original post.  Seth is the author of 17 books that have been bestsellers around the world and translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything. You might be familiar with his books Linchpin, Tribes, The Dip and Purple Cow.  Follow him on Twitter @thisissethsblog.)   

Our connection economy thrives when people understand what to expect from one another. We’re more likely than ever to engage in interactions that involve an exchange, something that deserves a specific clarification. I’ll do this and you’ll do that.

More and more agreements are being made, because more and more transactions happen outside or between organizations. The question then: What does good drafting look like?

If the agreement starts with “whereas” and continues along with, “notwithstanding the foregoing,” and when it must be decoded by a lawyer on the other side, something has gone wrong. These codewords, and the dense language that frequently appears in legal agreements, are symptoms of a system out of whack. It’s possible to be precise without being obtuse. 

There’s actually no legal requirement that an agreement not be in specific, clear, everyday English. To do otherwise disrespects the person you’re hoping to engage with. There’s no legal requirement that even the terms of service for a website can’t be clear and easy to understand. In fact, if the goal is to avoid confusion and the costs of the legal system when conflicts occur, the more clear, the better.

Consider this clause, which can change everything: “Any disagreements over the interpretation of this agreement will be resolved through binding, informal arbitration. Both of us agree to hire a non-involved attorney, submit up to five pages of material to state our case, and abide by her decision.”

The best thing about this clause is that you’ll almost never need it. Mutual respect and clear language lead to agreements that work.

TAAG will continue to look for opportunities for incremental improvements in our processes and use as much clear language as possible when we communicate with you.

Our best wishes to all of you for a very safe and Happy New Year!!