Sympathy for the Lawyer
An e-mail exchange about subscribing to Slate.
I am Slate's lawyer and was responsible for drafting the agreement that led to your note. Unfortunately, we are now in a day and age where virtually any advertising, marketing or commerce requires some legalities for even the simplest transactions (you can thank government regulation, consumer groups and plaintiff's lawyers for some of that). In conjunction with the Slate staff, I tried very hard to write something that was sensitive to consumers and yet handled the business realities and legal needs of doing commerce on the Internet. And, to tell you the truth, I thought we'd done a much better job of it than many of our competitors (I don't know whether you have seen the agreements for the Wall Street Journal Interactive or Netscape, or if you have an account with AOL or CompuServe, but their agreements are substantially longer and more complex). So, I'd be particularly interested in hearing from you what parts of the agreement you found objectionable ... or is it the concept of an agreement in any form that led to your note?
I look forward to hearing from you.
--Steve Tapia, Corporate Attorney, Microsoft Corporation
From: Mark Lundgren Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 1998 9:01 AM To: Steve Tapia
Dear Mr. Tapia:
I have no objection to contracts, I sign them all the time. Nor do I have a particular objection to what I read of your handiwork (although due to a bad experience with a cellular phone company, I am reluctant to grant anyone permission to renew a contract without my explicit concurrence). In fact, from what I read of your contract, my impression was that it reads much better than most I've seen, for which I commend you. I am, however, pretty well fed up with being presented with long streams of legal jargon in an ever growing number of situations. I had a spare moment at work last week and thought I could take care of my Slate subscription. When it turned out to require a much longer moment than the one I had I was annoyed. All I wanted was to receive words via e-mail. Why do I get presented with a contract worthy of a software agreement? (In fact, I have software licensing agreements that are much shorter.)
I may sound excessively cranky to you, but understand that my wife and I each have two jobs, we have two small children and are helping to care for two others. We are constantly pressed for time. I find myself less willing to spend time doing things that seem needlessly complicated. If every internet transaction is going to be burdened by a cumbersome legal agreement, I don't see it having any advantage over catalog shopping (which is how I do much of my buying), and I won't use it much. I suspect the same is true for other busy people.
Perhaps what internet commerce needs is more government regulation. If aspects of internet commerce are standardized by well understood government rules then they will not have to be thrown in the face of the buyer in every transaction. A Slate subscription might then be only a little more burdensome to complete than a magazine subscription.
From: Steve TapiaSent: Tuesday, February 24, 1998 10:09 AM To: Mark Lundgren
Thank you for taking the time to reply. I appreciate your candor. It was like a nice cold glass of water in the face. Even though we really tried to keep the busy and harried consumer in mind, your comments make me realize that maybe we need to think our approach through yet again. Obviously, if you are making your decision about what to do with your leisure time and money on the basis of the legalese in our or any other agreement, then the tail has started to wag the dog. Sometimes that has to happen unfortunately ... but it's worth looking at again in any event to see if this has to be one of those times.