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Notes From the Desk of Cynthia Lifson: A Contract is a Story

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a continuing legal education seminar on contract drafting.  Now, I know that many may think that this is a totally tedious undertaking, but I remain fascinated by this particular form of writing.  Since the beginning of time, principles of exchange that are embodied in contracts have been necessary for human societies to function.  While contracts can certainly be verbal, a written instrument that articulates the elements of an agreement is usually preferred. When I first meet with a new client, it is not unusual for me to look at a document that the client has taken from a website on the internet and already signed. The client asks me to review the document and offer a legal analysis of the contract.  When I inquire about the client’s understanding of the document he or she has downloaded from the internet, the client frequently does not understand the meaning of the words in the document.  Sometimes, the client “tweaks” the language to reflect what the client believes is the intent of the parties to the contract.  In such instances, these “tweaks” may result in language that is so confusing that I need to say that absent amendment of the document, a court may need to intervene to interpret the contract. So what can a thoughtful person do to create a clear, understandable, and legally enforceable agreement?  While it may be useful to start with a template, looking at the contract as a story may help organize thinking.  I especially enjoy spending time with my clients to help them craft their “stories” when facing a...

Marriage Equality: Thinking About the Business Consequences

  On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Fourteen Amendment of our Constitution requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. Same-sex couples in the United States are entitled to the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. The particular state where a same-sex couple resides does not change this right. While some citizens celebrated this decision and other citizens denounced it, the change in our law will likely create a considerable impact on business. Now that there are no legal impediments to same-sex marriages, we can expect that many businesses will re-evaluate their policies regarding benefits for both spouses and domestic partners. For example, some companies had previously put in place benefits for domestic partners, or same-sex couples who could not legally wed. Some of these, such as cooperative health insurance coverage, are still in place. Yet, as The Washington Post reports, it is not clear whether these benefits will continue to be extended to long-standing couples that do not legally marry. It may no longer be a cost-effective option to offer, especially for small business owners. Similarly, with more individuals applying for spousal benefits, companies may find them too expensive to offer altogether. According to The Wall Street Journal, this is a recent trend that employers have been following to save money. Those businesses already inclined to cut these benefits will likely move forward now that the ruling has taken place. In addition, the timing of any changes in benefits offered by companies to their employees may change as a result of the...

Cyberstalking: New Form of Old Behaviors

  The crime of harassment has been on the books for a very long time. And of course, the obnoxious and often frightening behaviors associated with harassment have been a part of human existence since the beginning of time. One form of harassment is stalking: a crime that calls to mind the hunter and the prey, a crime of intimidation and psychological terror that often escalates into violence against its victims. Now, as we continue to develop new and immediate ways of communicating with one another, we see forms of stalking through electronic media. The relentless pursuit of a victim through the internet can be disruptive, cause enormous fear, and foreshadow undesirable contact “in real life.” This form of stalking through electronic communication devices is often referred to as “cyberstalking.” The federal government and all fifty states, including Maryland, have statutes to address stalking. However, the law has not kept pace with rapid changes in technology. Currently, Maryland law defines stalking in this way. It is a malicious course of conduct that includes approaching or pursing another where the person intends to place or knows or reasonably should have known that the conduct would place another in reasonable fear of the following: serious bodily injury, of an assault in any degree, of rape or sexual offense or attempted rape or sexual offense in any degree, false imprisonment or death. Notice that the term “approaching” is ambiguous. Does this mean approaching in the actual physical environment, or does it refer to approaching through electronic media? The June 1, 2015 decision by the Supreme Court in the case Elonis v. United...