Cyclometric testing for lawyers

World Brompton Championships 2008 - photo by Tim Branch

Photo by Tim Branch.

Great piece in today’s FT by Lucy Kellaway arguing that how you ride a bike shows what you’re really like at work. As she puts it:

I’ve always fancied that as a group, cyclists make relatively good employees. All of us are vaguely fit [some of us more vaguely than others]. We have the wherewithal to be reliable and punctual. When the trains stop running as a result of a little wind – as they did in London last Monday – we still get to work on time [speak for yourself, Lucy – I worked from home]. We are risk-takers and ever so slightly rebellious, which works quite well – especially in a job like journalism.

But as Ms Kellaway goes on to point out, cyclists aren’t a unitary group at all: fast or slow, with or without helmets, jumping red lights or respecting the rules of the road, and so on. Or (to add one of my personal bugbears) weaving in and out of traffic, passing buses on the inside, and so on.

So I can see what Ms Kellaway means when she says that watching people ride a bike will tell you far more about their aptitude as employees than any amount of psychometric testing: the black-clad, headphone-wearing banker with no lights, the pedestrian-scattering baby-pink Brompton rider, and so on (“it is the red light that is the richest point for data gathering”). The bike test weeds out non-team players and those men who are incapable of allowing themselves ever to be bested by a woman.

Kellaway also pre-empts my own objection when I saw the title of her piece:

Some cyclists may protest that they are aggressive in the saddle only to become pussycats at their desks, but I don’t agree: on a bike you are close to death and so become a more intense version of your true self.

This pulled me up, because I tend to think I am rather different on a bike than at my desk. I like to think I work in a calm, professional, collaborative way; by contrast, on a bike I become rather more aggressive and sweary (as a certain driver who pulled out from a side road in front of me this morning could testify, had she even noticed my existence).

But then I thought about it a little more, and I think this is a fair description of how I cycle: assertively, but not recklessly. I follow the rules of the road pretty faithfully: stopping at red lights, not riding on the pavement (my absolute, number one personal bugbear), and so on. I prefer to take and hold the lane in slow traffic rather than weaving around queuing vehicles – it’s safer, and to my mind more assertive, even if fractionally slower. My mantra (often muttered under my breath at some taxi driver who seems to doubt my right to exist) is “it’s a road vehicle” – which implies both rights and responsibilities. And yes, if you cross me then I’m likely to respond pretty firmly, but without losing control.

Perhaps those are not such bad traits for a lawyer – and if Kellaway is right that cyclists are “risk-takers and ever so slightly rebellious”, perhaps that’s not always bad for a lawyer, either. Or perhaps I just fit into the “red-light refuseniks” category:

When there is a big group of bikes together at a light, it takes a particular sort of cyclist to break the consensus and ride off, but once he has done that, others follow, leaving just one or two behind. I would hire these red-light refuseniks at once – but only for jobs in audit or compliance.

Ouch.

Advertisements

“I have read, understood, and agree with this blog post”

An unimaginative, T&C-drafting hack, yesterdayI did wonder whether to come into work this morning, after I read John Kay’s piece in the FT on why reading T&Cs is a waste of time. Adding to the sense of futility this could engender about my chosen career was Prof Kay’s assertion that the lawyers who draft such documents are “mostly unimaginative hacks rather than hotshots of the profession”. How very dare you!

However, Prof Kay does make some very good points about why “there is nothing ‘irrational'” about ignoring the small print on websites or on the back of dry-cleaning tickets. To say that consumers ought to read all the T&Cs they encounter is to take an excessively “legal and economic” view of human behaviour. In fact:

The reality is that the terms of exchange in a market economy are defined by social expectations and enforced by the mutual need of the parties to go on doing business.

I agree. Another reason why I rarely bother to read the T&Cs on consumer websites, at least where they are based in the EU, is that I tend to assume that consumer protection legislation will step in to protect me from anything too outrageous hidden away in the legal terms. (I’m a little more beadily cautious with US-based sites. But only a little.)

The main reason, though, is that it is not merely rational to ignore the T&Cs, but actively irrational to insist on reading them all. To take just eight of the websites and digital services that I use on a regular basis, here’s a quick, back-of-a-fag-packet word count for their legal terms:

Google

  • Terms: 1814
  • Privacy: 2223
  • Total: 4037

Twitter

  • Terms: 3491
  • Privacy policy: 2235
  • Total: 5726

Tumblr

  • Terms: 5122
  • Privacy policy: 3403
  • Total: 8525

Facebook

  • Terms: 4308
  • Privacy: 2120
  • Cookies: 401
  • Total: 6829

Amazon UK

  • Terms: 5334
  • Privacy: 2834
  • Cookies: 932
  • Total: 9100

LinkedIn

  • Terms: 7558
  • Privacy: 6983
  • Total: 14541

YouTube

  • Terms: 3636
  • Community Guidelines: 722
  • Total: 4358 (NB: YouTube shares Google’s privacy policy)

Apple

  • iTunes Terms: 14274
  • Privacy: 2467
  • Total: 16741

That’s a total of 69,857 words for just eight websites – and that’s ignoring the multiple linked guidelines that sites such as Facebook have in addition to their core legal terms. This is the length of a shortish novel: extend that out to every website you use each day, and you’ll quickly be heading towards a reading challenge of Tolstoyan dimensions.

So why bother having these terms in the first place? Why does my employer have its own terms that are quite long? Why do I not feel a deep sense of personal futility when called upon occasionally to draft terms for websites or online services? Well, to return to Prof Kay’s point quoted earlier:

The reality is that the terms of exchange in a market economy are defined by social expectations

That’s all very well, but every business will know there are customers out there who will, not to put too fine a point on it, take the piss: “You never said we couldn’t do that! It doesn’t say we can’t in your terms!” So well-drafted consumer T&Cs are there, not to override the “social expectations” that are the true heart of the deal, but to embody those expectations and to protect them from abuse – by either party. Conversely, the occasional rows that blow up about a website’s terms usually stem from an attempt by that site to override users’ “social expectations”.

All that said, I believe (and fervently hope) that over time, as we all become more accustomed to life on the internet, and as the social expectations become more clearly understood by both businesses and consumers, the need for lengthy T&Cs will diminish – and we’ll see those word counts start to reduce.

The last word on this, though, should go to Eddie Izzard, who hit the nail on the head when it came to the infamous iTunes Terms and Conditions: see this gifset (the final frame from which adorns the top of this post).