Fine points of legal argumentation do not prove absorbing for most writers, though we can all think of greatly gifted poets and novelists who studied the law and made it their profession. Still, as a friend of mine put it, he'd rather dribble a basketball through a mine field than read a book contract, which demands to be read with a proofreader's exact attention to detail.
For this among other understandable reasons, too few authors know enough about publishing, the law, and their rights. Contracts are routinely signed by authors who do not realize that the document presented to them is a draft subject to modification and amendment. The legalese is there to intimidate, obfuscate, and discourage the author from countering with changes protecting his or her interests. Authors need agents, if only to steer them through the process -- and it is a time-consuming process.
We have been posting some of Lynn Chu's reports on the proposed Google settlement. Lynn, who is a partner in the agency that represents me, is a lawyer as well as a literary agent, who says her first rule for authors is simply this: Never sign something you don't understand. Sensible advice, and I think she is right, too, to urge writers to improve their understanding of publishing as a commercial enterprise in an economic climate that is changing as fast as the paradigm shift from print to screen allows.