So Bilbo's crazy Hobbit contract really IS legally binding

Contributed by
Jan 22, 2013, 10:03 PM EST (Updated)

You probably remember that before he can go on his unexpected journey, Bilbo Baggins must first sign a rather lengthy contract binding him into the service of Thorin and Company. But how would that contract hold up outside of Middle-earth? A lawyer read the whole thing, and he's got answers.

Lawyer and author James Daily got hold of the full text of that massive sheaf of parchment from the movie (yes, the propmakers really did write the whole thing out) and analyzed everything. Using the rationale that the Shire is modeled on Medieval Europe, and noting that common law hasn't changed all that much from then to now, Daily read through the contract and evaluated how it would hold up in court.

So, after reading through the numerous sections detailing how much Bilbo would be paid, what would happen if he died along the way, what secrets he would have to keep and so forth, Daily really only found two major issues with the contract.

For one, arbitration of the contract must be done in the Dwarvish tongue, which could present a problem for Bilbo.

"Obviously this is a significant disadvantage for Bilbo, as he evidently cannot read (and presumably cannot speak) Dwarvish. Choice of language clauses like this one are much more common in international contracts than in contracts between parties in the United States," Daily wrote. "They are also much more common in contracts that contain arbitration agreements rather than forum selection clauses (e.g. "any disputes arising under this contract will be heard in the courts of Capital City, State X") because in most countries the courts only deal in one official language, making a choice of language clause redundant. But when the case will go to arbitration, the chosen arbitrator could potentially speak multiple languages."

A potentially bigger issue is the fact that the contract doesn't note what laws it's being drafted under: the laws of Erebor (where the dwarves are from) or the laws of The Shire.

"The one thing that leaps out at me about this contract is that it doesn't contain a choice of law clause. Such a clause allows the parties to specify what jurisdiction's law will govern the contract. This is particularly useful when multiple jurisdictions may potentially apply. The area of the law that deals with figuring out which court has jurisdiction and which law applies is known as conflict of laws."

Despite those issues, and its fantasy context, overall the contract looks pretty sound to Daily.

"On the whole, the contract is pretty well written. There are some anachronisms, unnecessary clauses, typos, and a small number of clear drafting errors, but given the contract's length and its role in the film (which is to say not a huge one, especially in the particulars) it's an impressive piece of work."

So, if you ever find yourself having to draft a contract for a burglar to join you in your quest, you can always use this one as a model.


(Via Wired)

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