A spotter’s guide to the men and women of finance.
The department whose individuals you can’t be bothered naming, to whom you forward awkward queries you can’t be bothered reading, let along taking the time to understand. You may never how much a lawyer resents that to-all email addressed: “Hi, Legal”.
What legal is’t
- Legal isn’t a letter-reading service. You are employed by a regulated financial institution. By having even got in the door, you are presumed to have some kind of higher education and to be basically literate (though, having enjoyed the product of management speak for decades we realise this is wishful thinking). But any rate, you can read. Yes, even you salespeople.
- Legal isn’t a contract signing service. If you want to do the crime, sign for it. If you don’t understand the legal document you are signing, get your coat.
Help me, Legal
The words “I cannot say: you’ll have to ask legal” drop like scented jewels from the lips of colleagues who can’t be bothered — or are too scared — to make a simple decision, or read a simple letter, by themselves. No-one likes making decisions in modern multinationals: no individual good comes of it, however much collective good may follow.
But not all legal questions are beyond the layperson’s grasp. By presumption of law, none of them are: the law deemed you know it comprehensively, however paltry your education. In the general run of things, ignorance is no excuse. Within a modern corporation, it is a virtue.
“Legal will need to say when the contract is formed. It is not for me to opine”. This is the sort of senseless thing you hear. “Legal” can opine, of course — nothing gives “Legal” greater pleasure than sounding off on offer, acceptance and invitation to treat or weighing in on whether the intention to create legal relations is an independent ingredient of the consensus ad idem. But contract formation is not alchemy: you do it without pause at the supermarket checkout and when you press a copper into your newsagent’s mitten.
Nor can you hedge on the question until your lawyer arrives. It is binary — and this is a matter of logic, not law — for either there is a contract, or there isn’t. There is no purgatorial state between. It’s like being pregnant. So it won’t do to defer the question to legal. Before you even have a chance to ask Legal you have made a call: if you are not prepared to say there is, you are asserting there is not.
- There is something worse: faux joviality, which conveys as honed sarcasm, as in the phrase “Hi, Legal Eagles!!!”
- Individual good comes from taking credit for decisions made once they have safely borne fruit, not from taking a view.
- And here, as ever, your devoted correspondent finds himself drifting free of the moorings of legal consensus. For whatever the learned academics and our storied magistrates — including no lesser luminaries than Lord Atkin himself, in Balfour v Balfour  2KB 571 — in their exposition of the common law’s golden stream, may previously have said, it is not. Intention to create legal relations is the inference you draw from an accepted offer supported by consideration.