Post No.: 0089
Now it’s incredibly difficult, or perhaps even foolhardy or pointless, to generalise for a global audience a subject such as law because of the different laws and legal systems of different countries (or even local jurisdictions within countries). Like for political topics, I speak with mainly a United Kingdom perspective, but I am also interested in the legal systems of other nations. I have also explored some areas of international law, including the United Nations, European Union and other treaties, such as those regarding human rights. Still, maybe it will be fascinating to compare any similarities and differences you may find with your own jurisdictions?
Disclaimer time now – I am no qualified legal advisor. (How non-ironic to place a legal disclaimer in a post about law!) Law is a massive and technical subject (as I know are medicine, physics and really most other subjects I suppose) and I know enough to know that there’s a lot I do not know about this subject, yet I still want to learn a bit and share with you some discoveries that I think are interesting because law is such an important and unavoidable subject. I’m happy to admit to my weaknesses because I know I have many other strengths. Thank you for your understanding!..
The main take-away from this post is that understanding the laws that apply to oneself is very important and advantageous as a citizen. It’s not only that ignorance is generally no defence but knowing your furry rights can put you in a very strong position and reduce your fuzzy worries. In my experience, it can also save you a lot of money in legal costs too when lawyers/attorneys/solicitors know that you’re not naïve! In many cases it’s still going to take a professional to comprehend the complete ins-and-outs of a legal area because it’s a full-time job and I’m wise enough to understand that, so legal counsel is still frequently necessary, depending on the case. But the more you understand about the things you can do yourself, the more you can save money by not deferring the work to someone who charges you by the hundreds of pounds per hour. You may think ‘what’s the point?’ for a one-off case but, as you go through life, you’ll highly likely encounter more cases (unless your life is very straightforward and uneventful!) and these previous experiences will build.
So I do absolutely advocate getting help and always seeking advice, but this doesn’t mean the first port of call is hiring a lawyer. There are a lot of free advice services to explore first, such as community legal centres, citizens’ advice bureaus (although they tend to be overloaded and under-funded), ombudsmen, internal review processes (depending on the industry or organisation a complaint concerns) or you might be able to get hold of a pro bono (free) lawyer. The Internet can be full of misinformation however, or the blind leading the blind. If a case does require going to court though then hiring a lawyer would be highly advised (but one does need to be able to afford one when there’s no legal aid in one’s country). I’ve used lawyers on a couple of occasions so this is not about being against getting professional help – it’s about being better prepared and not simply deferring all legal matters to lawyers because it helps enormously if one learns along the way too. And arguably, no one should really understand a case that concerns you more than you.
Ignorance of the law is indeed generally no defence for breaching it, albeit probably no one in the world fully understands every law that’s applicable to them, including legal professionals! Nonetheless, it’s best to understand your rights, as well as your obligations, and keep up-to-date, as best as you can. If you don’t agree with a firm’s terms and conditions then don’t state that you agree with them. If in doubt then check, and if you still don’t understand something then hire a lawyer.
Caring about better-understanding a legal area one is entering has personally helped me to win or prevail in at least three-out-of-three cases or situations – a United States utility patent application for a golf club invention, minor traffic violations, and a local land registry dispute; all of which ultimately resulted in the outcomes I sought (an issued patent that I was overall satisfied with, not ever having had any penalty points on my licence so far, and a corporation suddenly laying claims to the property rights of the people of my neighbourhood taking a hike – yes, don’t mess with this dog!) I have also had registered trademarks, a design registration, and of course I have copyrighted works.
I personally find that debates with those in the legal profession, whilst they’re in legal contexts at least (and are in relatively well-developed and fair legal jurisdictions I suppose), tend to be the most productive debates I’ve ever had because these people in these contexts understand the value of evidence and critical reason over conjecture, rumour or mere belief. I kind of wish it were always like that in every context there’s a conflict or debate!
A couple of examples of pieces of knowledge that helped me to succeed in a legal situation that I didn’t need to pay legal professional help for (the land dispute) include – ambiguity shall be interpreted with the benefit of the doubt in favour of all persons who did not draft an agreement i.e. ambiguity shall be potentially interpreted against the persons who drafted or relies upon the agreement. Therefore ensure that you make any agreements you draft unambiguous and clear. And parties cannot use ignorance as an excuse regarding information that has been made explicit or available to them i.e. pretending that one didn’t know that something was wrong doesn’t make it okay or legal, especially if it’s been directly and clearly brought to one’s attention. Knowing these things nipped that problem in the bud, thus it reduced my overall stress.
Being enthusiastic and intrigued about an area of law I knew nothing much about previously also meant that I fought those claims by that corporation rather than resigned to accepting them like most people in my neighbourhood did. Under confusion or uncertainty, most people stick to the default behaviour, which is often to do nothing (a ‘status quo bias’). Also under collective problems, people often defer responsibilities to others, thinking that other people will act if one doesn’t, but the risk is that no one ends up taking responsibility at all (the ‘bystander effect’). So I took responsibility to sort the situation out.
Once again, knowledge is power. Understand the rules of the game better and you’ll be able to play the game better. Know what rights you have and you can buy in confidence or be more cautious. And so forth.
I’ll reiterate that it’s tricky trying to write about the subject of law when laws are so varied across the world but, like with many other topics I post about, it maybe serves to whet your appetite so that you might consider personally exploring a subject further.
Woof! Maybe you can share with us a story of when knowing your legal rights put you in an advantageous position or put you at ease, via the Twitter comment button below?