Fri, 20 Mar 2015
Every so often, when I am called upon to sign some contract or other, I have a conversation that goes like this:
There is only one response you should make to this line of argument:
Because if the lawyers made them put in there, that is for a reason. And there is only one possible reason, which is that the lawyers do, in fact, envision that they might one day exercise that clause and chop off your hand.
The other party may proceed further with the same argument: “Look, I have been in this business twenty years, and I swear to you that we have never chopped off anyone's hand.” You must remember the one response, and repeat it:
You must repeat this over and over until it works. The other party is lazy. They just want the contract signed. They don't want to deal with their lawyers. They may sincerely believe that they would never chop off anyone's hand. They are just looking for the easiest way forward. You must make them understand that there is no easier way forward than to remove the hand-chopping clause.
They will say “The deadline is looming! If we don't get this contract executed soon it will be TOO LATE!” They are trying to blame you for the blown deadline. You should put the blame back where it belongs:
And if the other party would prefer to walk away from the deal rather than abandon their hand-chopping rights, what does that tell you about the value they put on the hand-chopping clause? They claim that they don't care about it and they have never exercised it, but they would prefer to give up on the whole project, rather than abandon hand-chopping? That is a situation that is well worth walking away from, and you can congratulate yourself on your clean escape.
[ Addendum: Steve Bogart asked on Twitter for examples of unacceptable contract demands; I thought of so many that I put them in a separate article. ]
[ Addendum 20150401: Chas. Owens points out that you don't have to argue about it; you can just cross out the hand-chopping clause, add your initials and date in the margin. I do this also, but then I bring the modification it to the other party's attention, because that is the honest and just thing to do. ]
[ Addendum 20220420: More and more, contracts are moving online and getting electronic signatures. This removes the option to modify the contract before signing: you can sign it intact, or not at all. Don't ever forget that the Man is always trying to get his foot on your neck. ]
[ Addendum 20220420: More about why it's important to push back ]