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I wouldn’t sign the document

Yesterday evening I met with a financial advisor from a large financial company. The meeting was going well and I was ready to sign on for much-needed financial advice until we started discussing the agreement.

First, he told me that the agreement was not a contract. I quickly corrected him and explained that they were one and the same. Then I started flipping through the three-page document. Lo and behold, there it was, in bold: an arbitration clause AND a statement claiming that there is no agreement to enter into any class action arbitration.

I explained to him in my excitable way that I wouldn’t sign the document, explained to him what the arbitration clause meant and its impact on consumers. He was shocked. In a very brief moment he removed the professional mask and showed that he was appalled by the provision’s meaning. I told him about the need to support the Arbitration Fairness Act in Congress. He asked if it would eliminate arbitration. I explained that it wouldn’t – but it would make it voluntary, rather than forced.

He said it was the first time he’d ever heard anyone complain of it. He said that another lawyer-client had crossed out a phrase (not arbitration-related) in a type of insurance contract and the company accepted it. He thought maybe they would do the same for me in this case — cross out the arbitration clause. Then after talking about the issue some more, we both agreed that it was highly unlikely that the company would do so, but that he would try.

I further depressed the poor guy when we were finishing up the meeting by bringing up his employment agreement. He said he signed an employment agreement, and I said that an arbitration clause is likely in the contract. He said, “What should I do, not take the job?” And I said that’s exactly the point. We don’t have a choice when it comes to these provisions. Afterwards, he practically pushed me into the elevator, happy to see me leave.

He really was a nice and very helpful guy – hopefully he doesn’t have an arbitration clause in his employment agreement. Now we’ll see if he can get the clause removed from my contract!

Christine Hines is the consumer and civil justice counsel for Public Citizen.