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The importance of being pedantic

View profile for Mark Jones
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The importance of being pedantic

A few days ago, I was pondering one of the great questions in modern life, which is whether being a solicitor makes you more pedantic. 

My wife once said that we would have less arguments if I wasn’t so pedantic. I replied “I think you mean fewer arguments”. 

It is a question I often think about when I visit Studley Royal Deer Park, which is one of my favourite places in Yorkshire. For those of you who do not know Studley Royal, it adjoins Fountains Abbey and is a wide expanse of parkland leading down to a lake. A long straight road runs through the centre of the park with deer and pheasants wandering between the trees. The road rises up to a church and turning and looking back down the road, reveals a stunning vista of Ripon Cathedral. 

The reason the deer park makes me think about being pedantic is that on entering the park through Studley Roger village, you enter through two metal gates and just inside the gates there is a sign which says ‘Please do not park on the grass and keep dogs on leads’.

Now to me, the sign means that if you park on the grass, you must take your dog off its lead (or that you are okay to park on the grass so long as you take your dog off its lead).

I do appreciate that I am being pedantic and that the National Trust may have intended the sign to mean ‘Please do not park on the grass and please keep dogs on leads’. If they did, there is a definitely a ‘please’ missing and they have only themselves to blame if the deer are savaged by a loose dog. Or run over. 

To be fair to me, solicitors are trained for several years to be pedantic when it comes to the use of the English language. In legal matters, the exact meaning of the words you use can be crucial. A missing word can completely change the meaning of a document potentially with catastrophic results. Even if no words are actually missing, a lack of thought about the words used can be equally disastrous. One case I dealt with involved a homemade Will where the person making the Will had left a gift to ‘my son’s wife’. At the time that he made the Will, his son was married to a wife to whom he was particularly close. The problem was that after the man made his Will but before he died, his son divorced and married another wife whom he didn’t like quite so much. The dispute was about which ‘wife’ was entitled to the gift. 

It is not just Wills. In a trust document I saw, some parents had set up a very valuable trust for the benefit of their ‘grandchildren’ but had forgotten that one of the children they intended to benefit was actually their daughter’s stepson.  The stepson had not been adopted by the daughter and, legally, was therefore not a ‘grandchild’ of theirs. 

Another area where confusion can reign because people haven’t been pedantic enough is the title deeds to properties. I act for farming families for whom properties have been within the family for generations and the titles have never been registered at HM Land Registry. There can often be a problem because field numbers have changed or boundaries have been moved on the ground without any thought to the title deeds. When the family comes to sell the property, it can be extremely difficult to work out where the boundaries should be because the legal position differs from the reality. 

These are all examples of why you should use a solicitor when it comes to legal documents. We are paid to be pedantic in the best possible way and our attention to detail can save you thousands of pounds. 

For further information in pedantic plain English, please contact Mark Jones

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