What if it’s not in writing?

The beauty or bane (depending upon whom you ask) of being a lawyer is that we love writing. For me, this helps John (my generic client name from my previous blogs) know what to expect. Why? Because, and despite lawyers' horrible reputation, I (as John’s lawyer) must be, among other things, competent, candid and honest with him.

Recently, John engaged me to act on his behalf in a dispute with his (now former) major supplier. We shall call him “Bob”. My first request to John was for a copy of his Supply Agreement (or any other document that vaguely resembled it) with Bob. John replied that it was a "handshake deal".

In his efforts to simplify his dealings, John unwittingly made them so much more complicated. Combined with the emotion of the conflict, this was a recipe for disaster. Regular readers of my blog know that I am a fan of Sun Tzu (the author of "The Art of War"). What would he say to John? Probably something like "John – how can you know yourself and know your enemy and therefore not fear battle, if you don’t even know what you are fighting about?"

In John’s case, my solution was to read through copious emails and text messages exchanged between John and Bob in order to determine the key elements of their dealings and, on that basis, to infer a Supply Agreement (albeit not one so labelled and proverbially wrapped with a pretty red bow). Whilst lawyers enjoy reading (there’s so much of it, we often grow to love it), this task could have been avoided. How? You probably know the answer now - with a simple document, signed and dated by both John and Bob, and labelled “Supply Agreement”.

From my twenty-years in legal practice, I know that there are precious few pretty red-bowed documents out there. So, if you are just like John, don’t feel that bad. You’re in good company with the majority of the population. But, do try and learn from John’s experience.

So, what is the answer to the question in the title to this blog "What if it’s not in writing?" It should be (and probably is if you look hard enough). But please, let’s put it wrapped with a pretty red bow and labelled ‘Supply Agreement’.

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