A VERBAL CONTRACT ISN’T WORTH THE PAPER IT’S WRITTEN ON

It was Samuel Goldwyn who once said that “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” He had a point. Almost everything is done online these days from legal papers to mortgages. Job offers, book deals, major purchases (like cars) are all done online, without people meeting face-to-face. I’m still not willing to make major commitments without a personal meeting, but I’m old-school. Maybe you should be, too.

Computers, or not, get it in writing. Without the handwritten signature of a live human with a name, address, and phone numbers, you ain’t got nothing.

When I was working my first jobs out of college, I would take anything with some connection — no matter how vague — to professional writing or editing.
It was the 1960s. Those days, before home computers and the Internet, getting a job was pretty simple, at least at entry levels.

You saw a listing in the paper for something you figured you could do. You phoned them (if they gave a number to call) or wrote a letter. On paper. Put it in an envelope with a stamp and dropped in a mailbox. You included a résumé or brought one with you for the interview.

Bonnie guarding my computer

You went to the meeting in person. A day or two later, that person (or his/her secretary) called back to say “Yes, you’re hired,” or “No, thank you.” An entry-level job didn’t require 30 hours of interviewing, or meeting everyone from the company president to the IT crew and the overnight backup guy.

There was a job. You were qualified to do it — or not. The person who interviewed you had authority to hire you — which was why he or she was conducting interviews. Unlike today where you can be sure the first person you talk to is someone from HR trying to ascertain whether or not you are a serial killer or corporate espionage agent.

Contracts? Those were for really important jobs. Getting in the door was relatively easy. Getting an office with a window might never happen. And if you were a woman, you better know how to type.

The company made me an offer. I took it. I was optimistic back then. Any job might lead to the coveted and elusive “something better.” I was already working, so I gave my current employer two weeks notice.

On the appointed day, I showed up for work.

The guy who had offered me the job was gone. Quit? Fired? No one seemed to know … or no one was talking. Worse, no one had heard of me, or my so-called job.

I had nothing in writing. Without proof, I had a hard time even getting unemployment. I had learned the most important professional lesson of my life:


GET IT IN WRITING.


Whatever it is. If it’s not on a piece of paper, dated, and signed, it’s a verbal contract. Which, in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, is not worth the paper it’s written on.

18 thoughts on “A VERBAL CONTRACT ISN’T WORTH THE PAPER IT’S WRITTEN ON”

  1. I totally agree with you — but it’s getting worse. Visa just announced that they are doing away with signatures on charge slips! The record is there, but there’s no proof it was you!

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      1. Agree about paper contract and, preferably, ink that doesn’t disappear.

        I had myriad contracts in 31 yrs on Boston television, 3 at ABC Network News, and 2 or 3 at the other smaller places I worked at in TV and radio in the “other” 4 or 5 years.

        The Boston contracts were the best because they were built on my accrued knowledge of fees, union negotiations, options, etc.

        I was fortunate to work in an era when on camera/on air “talent” were viewed as profitable celebrities. We had “Q” ratings which supposedly measured our popularity with viewers. What did that have to do with news credibility? Good question, Pilgrims. The old timers who began in the pioneer days of television and radio HATED being evaluated as commodities. I got over my “Ed Murrow vanity” quickly as the ka-ching signs flashed brightly. Contract negotiations were love-hate sessions. The old “suits” clearly didn’t like the younger generation of reporters when it came to contracts. We were viewed as pushy and not appreciative of our status. We used the abhorred “Q” ratings to our advantage and made sure everything was spelled out in specifics in contracts. I viewed contract negotiation as “war”. I also tried to make sure it never impacted my work.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Banks still do everything in writing, too much risk of computer hacks. When my dad passed away I had to send many documents by postal means. In the older days, pre-computer, you only had signed contracts.

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      1. Getting worse every day. It’s convenient, I admit and I’m sometimes really glad I don’t have to go out and take care of it … and they do, at least at BOA, check other forms of identity to make sure we are who we say we are. Some banks, like Eastern, are in some kind of lockdown mode these days … so maybe it isn’t as bad as it could be. I think people holding cards in stores get more leeway than people on the phone.

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  3. I have a huge sense of panic – of being cut adrift – when I don’t have things in writing. It seems too easy to lose/forget the on-line trail of exchanges/vital log-ins and all that stuff. Makes business exchanges seem unreal somehow. Slippery!

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        1. I cleaned off the desk I no longer use and put anything I thought was important on it. I hope it is what I need because I don’t remember ANYTHING anymore, much less what papers I’ve got versus what I might actually NEED.

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            1. I was just grateful that there’s one place in my house where I can put papers and they will stay put. Since the room isn’t being used for anything much — a guest bed in case we ever have any company, coat closets and the printer and router. The desk is a leftover from when I needed a desk. At least now it has a purpose.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. Well in my opinion the banks have been making it easy for ID thieves and rogues who steal other people’s money to do their thing. They stopped checking ID when someone whipped out a credit card (and in the day of the debit card that’s really gone by the wayside) back in the early 1990s. My sister in law had her purse stolen, with her wallet inside. It was just before Labor Day weekend, and the thieves ran up $2500 in charges. NOBODY asked to see ID when the people were using the cards. My brother had cancelled them immediately and the stores/merchants still accepted the swipe. It’s a sad ol’ world isn’t it?

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    1. They have been making it increasingly easy to use credit, but that’s the way the country is going. And then, there’s a BIG scandal and everyone goes “Ooh, that’s BAD.” After which, right back to doing exactly the same thing. There are SO many people who buy really expensive stuff — cameras and printers and CARS on eBay! How nuts is that?

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