For anyone attending college, there is one class, regardless of your major or intended occupation, which will have the single most important money and hassle-saving influence on your life of any course, anywhere.
Care to guess what it is? Try your hand with these questions:
(1) You’re about to sign a contract for a solar system and are told to expect a 40 percent electrical bill savings, but this appears nowhere in the contract. That savings is an important factor. Should you sign? This class provides the answer.
(2) A pizza delivery job with reimbursement for your mileage is offered. Flexible hours and free pizza is part of the deal, but then a friend asks, “What if you get into an auto accident while making a delivery. Will your auto insurance provide coverage?” This course opens your eyes to the world of insurance.
(3) A friend tells you about an investment adviser with “Risk-Free Guaranteed Returns of 50 percent every 90 days” and shows you statements with those figures. Tired of low bank interest rates, you’re just about to hand over a check and then remember something a teacher once told you in a college class. “Could this be a Ponzi Scheme?” you wonder, and back out. That teacher just saved your bacon.
Let’s see how did you did - and if you know what class we’re talking about.
The four corners of a contract
“Dennis, your solar system contract example is perfect, as salespeople are known to exaggerate the benefits,” states Lawrence Hsieh, an author and attorney.
“If those savings aren’t realized, trying to raise the issue in court could be a problem. A judge might say, ‘It isn’t in the contract, so you can’t tell me about it now.’ While there are some exceptions, the terms on which you rely must be contained within the four corners of the contract, so if an issue is important to you, make sure it’s in the contract.”
“But we trusted the salesman,” lawyers hear so often. While at times we can help, for example by showing fraud, what’s in the agreement – the four corners of the contract - will generally determine the outcome.
An illustration of that concept is on page 76 of Hsieh’s new book, “Business Law: A Graphical Approach,” published by Wolters Kluwer, which many colleges across America are now using.
Of course, now you know the class I’m talking about: Business law.
In fact, “Business Law: A Graphical Approach” is so well written, so clear, interesting, and wonderfully visual, that my staff had to snatch it from me, along with a lecture: “Beaver, stop playing and get back to work!”
It develops a healthy skepticism and helps you know when to seek legal advice.
“A great advantage in taking a business law class,” states Kern County Superior Court Judge Brian McNamara, who is also a business law professor at Cal State University Bakersfield, “Is the healthy skepticism about life, business and even personal relationships it develops. From examples of people who either failed or refused to seek legal advice, students learn to ask questions which would never have occurred to them.
“Business law help students in their daily lives, and, Dennis, your example of the pizza delivery job offer is the kind of thing we look at. These courses bring real life into the classroom in ways that few others can, alerting students to danger signs which might otherwise never come to mind. Here, using a personal car for commercial purposes would almost certainly be excluded from insurance converge in the event of an accident.
“It’s a class that can quite literally keep you out of trouble, or, if things go south, instead of trying to manage a horrible situation on your own, you will realize that legal assistance is required - now,” McNamara underscores.
Feedback across the years
When I began my legal career in Bakersfield, the business law teacher at Bakersfield College ran for Congress and asked if I would take over for him.
Not only was it one of the most enjoyable of any course that I’ve taught, but over the years, students would call, remind me they were in my class, and just take the time to say thanks for how it had helped them in life and in business.
Given the chance, I would teach that class again in a heartbeat, bringing into it my experience as a lawyer. In the legal world, war stories matter and are found in Lawrence Hseih’s book, in Brian McNamara’s classes, and wherever a practicing attorney or judge teaches this class.
Wherever you are, if business law is offered at your college or university, this one class will reward you across your entire life.