Sympathy for the Lawyer

Department of complaints.
March 1 1998 3:30 AM

Sympathy for the Lawyer

An e-mail exchange about subscribing to Slate.

(Continued from Page 1)

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?

Advertisement

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.

Mark Lundgren

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 22 2014 8:07 AM Why Haven’t the Philadelphia Eagles Ever Won a Super Bowl?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.