Why one single comma can change the outcome of your whole case.
It Takes A Comma
Many years ago, the U.S.S. Battleship Washington was sailing the ocean in battleship formation with cruisers and destroyers leading the way. It was traveling fast on its course when the ship's navigator sighted on his radar, an unknown object 3 miles directly ahead of it. The navigator notified the ship's captain, Captain Jenkins, who then instructed the radioman to direct the object to move.
Into his radio, the radioman firmly announced, "This is the U.S.S. Battleship Washington. You are three miles directly ahead of our course. Advise that you change course."
A brief moment passed when a response to the Washington's call was heard. "Sorry Washington," came the reply, "we cannot move. You redirect your course."
Hearing this, the Captain was a bit perplexed, for he lead one of the most lethal war fleets on earth. The U.S.S. Washington was surrounded by destroyers and navy cruisers armed with huge cannons and missiles. Thinking that the respondent did not hear correctly, he directed the radioman to again issue a warning, "This is the U.S.S. Washington... you are on direct course with an American battleship group. Advise that you change your course immediately."
Moments passed until the bridge received a response, "No can do, Washington. You need to change YOUR course."
Captain Jenkins grabbed the radio microphone out from the hands of the radioman and barked, "This is Captain Jenkins of the US.S. Battleship Washington. We are a Fast Carrier Task Force with 3 Carriers, 7 Destroyers and 6 Cruisers bearing directly down on you in less than 2 miles. This serves as my final warning that you WILL CHANGE YOUR COURSE IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL BE DESTROYED!!"
Seconds later, another response came over the crackle of the radio waves. "No Washington............you move."
Captain Jenkins was furious. He had already given his final warning and he yelled into the microphone, "Who is foolish enough to confront the greatest navy on the seven seas the world has ever known?"
Moments went by. Captain Jenkins was red in the face. His men were silent. The bridge was still. Then a calm voice came through the radio loud and clear.
"Captain Jenkins," said the voice, "this is the Lighthouse."
Moral of the Story
Inspired by a similar story as told by the late Stephen Covey in his book, "The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People," I love to relay its message in my law practice to clients. Real estate agreements, business contracts and financial disputes almost always involve complicated written agreements with an array of lengthy regulatory documentation. When clients come in, they're either emboldened by their facts that they believe support their case, or they feel beaten by a large financial institution, creditor, or other antagonist.
Like Captain Jenkin's lighthouse, when it involves a legal concern and legal documentation, it only takes a comma (or one fact, sentence, paragraph, provision or document) to change, for better or worse, the course of an action.
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