Famous Last Words

By J.C. Bailey

Many of you have heard comedians talk about what people say right before they do something they may or may not live to regret.  I think it is Jeff Foxworthy who says the last words of a redneck are usually, “Hold my beer.”  In almost a quarter century of practicing law, I have listened to thousands of people recount their thought process just prior to making a bad decision.  There are patterns common to human nature and popular perception that come up time and time again.  What follows are a few of the most popular last words, so that you can recognize them as you or someone you care about is about to mess up.

“Somebody told me…” and “People have been saying…” is quickly being replaced by “I read on the Internet.”  What these sayings have in common is their inaccuracy.  There are literally thousands of ways in which your facts differ from a well-meaning storyteller or website.  Any one of these thousands of factual discrepancies can make the final result dramatically different.  A seemingly small thing can be incredibly important.  The difference between the day before the statute of limitations runs out and the day after is a world of difference.  Is the anecdote or website information exactly on point?  Is your case in the same state, county, parish or court?  Are all of the laws applicable to your example exactly the same as in the example you are referencing?  Is the case one in which the court is called upon to exercise discretion, which will change results from case to case?  Mark Twain noted the difference in a single syllable when he pointed out the dramatic difference between the meaning of “lightning” and “lightning bug.”  Hardly anyone dies from catching lightning bugs.

“It sounded too good to be true” is one of the saddest laments we hear.  After centuries of hearing that if something sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t true, we still haven’t learned. Even as we lock ourselves away from human contact and spend less time in public spaces, fraud continues to run rampant.  We are looking for an angle or hoping that the next relationship or business opportunity will be our ticket to prosperity.  It is natural to seek to improve one’s life and life is a risky venture, but if you hear yourself or a friend say it sounds too good to be true, run the opportunity by your attorney or advisor.

“How hard can it be?” and “It’s all going to work out” are ignorance and procrastination’s favorite sayings.  The person who asks how difficult something can be is almost always lacking in experience.  See male of the species commenting on giving birth.  It may only take the doctor a few minutes to perform the surgery, but only an idiot thinks they should try it themselves.  “It’s all going to work out” has a fatalistic ring of truth to it.  Ultimately, all kinds of bad decisions, half baked advice and poor planning do work out.  Like the body that is eventually found in the river, there is an end that comes to most stories.  It would seem preferable to have taken swimming lessons or worn a life jacket or listened to wind warnings, but some folks just like to believe ignorance and procrastination are their friends.  They are not your friends.  Professionals who give you wise counsel are your friends.

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