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Are you legally entitled to a copy of a document you sign?

Houston, TX |

A company is claiming that they have a promissary note signed by my wife and the owner is refusing to give us a copy of any and all paperwork. They won't even send a copy to our lawyer after he requested it.

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Attorney answers 4


Yes. Be persistent. I wouldn't agree to anything or pay a cent until they can produce the document.

This answer is offered for informational purposes only. It is not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice. Laws vary widely from state to state. You should rely only on the advice given to you during a personal consultation by a local attorney who is thoroughly familiar with state laws and the area of practice in which your concern lies.




If you already have a lawyer advising you on this matter and you want a second opinion, you should probably select and then consult a specific lawyer in a private communication, rather than trying to get other lawyers on to second-guess your existing lawyer in this public forum.

Subject to that very important warning, though: There's no doubt that if your dispute does end up in court, you'll be entitled to compel the company to produce not only the documents you signed, but all drafts, correspondence, notes, and so forth that were exchanged or generated in the discussions leading up to your signing the note.

The exception might be if the company has some documents that you've never seen, and that were confidential communications between the company and its own lawyers that were necessary for the company to seek, or the lawyer to give the company, legal advice. That, like the lawyer's own files, are likely privileged -- IF (but only if) they've maintained the confidentiality of those documents. However, anything that you have been shown -- and certainly anything you SIGNED -- cannot possibly be the subject of a privilege claim by the company or its lawyers.

Before suit is filed, it's considerably less clear whether you can compel the company to permit you to inspect and copy the documents you're asking for. I'm not sure what provision of Texas law the out-of-state lawyers who've already answered this question were thinking about, but I don't think the issue is nearly as simple as their glib responses suggest. Arguably the company has a duty to cooperate with you as part of the implied covenant of good faith & fair dealing that the law deems to be part of every contract. But even if that's so, or if there's some other legal theory under which the company has an obligation to give you access to the documents, as a practical matter you STILL may not be able to compel their cooperation without a court's assistance.

In other words, even if you have a theoretical right to something -- including looking at the documents -- to get an effective remedy for the denial of that right, you may still have to go to court.

I re-emphasize: You should talk to your existing lawyer about this issue before making any decisions or taking any action. But don't hesitate to get a second opinion -- privately -- if you still have questions or you're dissatisfied with your existing counsel's response.


Slight clarification: I'm assuming Texas law applies, and if you and the company are both in Texas, then it probably does. But if the note contains a provision selecting another state's law -- which an out-of-state lender would typically do, since they usually want to be governed by the law of the state in which they're located -- then the answer to your question might depend in part on the law of that other state. I recognize that to even know whether there IS such a clause or not, you need to see the document. But even without seeing it, your lawyer can give you a much better informed prediction on that subject.

Also: When I said above that no attorney-client or other legal privilege could justify the company in refusing to show you, as part of a court proceeding, something you've already seen or signed, I meant that no VALID argument could be made to justify such a privilege. Obviously anyone can *claim* anything, but whether a judge will buy it is another story. No judge would agree with such an assertion of privilege on a document you've previously seen or signed.

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