As a freelance communications professional, I’ve signed a lot of contracts with clients over the years for provision of services. It’s something I have to do in order to protect myself from potentially unscrupulous companies that could effectively steal my work and not pay me.
Sometimes the contract is enforceable, and sometimes not. There can be times when the contract language is so convoluted that I just want to rip my hair out and scream. (Been there, right?) But before we all start yelling, repeat after me: check with a lawyer before signing ANYthing! The last thing you want is to be stuck in a bad contract AFTER you’ve signed away your rights.
Movick Marketing has permission from the Maryland-based small business lawyer Phil Marcus to repost the following newsletter article on the subject. Thanks, Phil! (Copyright 2011 Philip L. Marcus. All rights reserved. Visit www.smallbizlawyer.us for more information and a huge archive of great articles.)
Check with your lawyer BEFORE you sign a contract.
When you are trying to get out of a bad deal, or to enforce an unenforceable contract, it is too late.
Often someone comes to see me with a contract a retailer had them sign, or they will cobble something together for their own use from bits and pieces off the Web. They either want to force the other side to fulfill their promises, or they are sorry they signed and want to get out. Either way, it is probably too late. What they cobbled up is unenforceable. And a lawyer who knew what they were doing wrote what the retailer had them sign, and it is virtually unbreakable.
“But it was a standard contract.” With a few exceptions, there is no such thing. (The law regulates most contracts of insurance, and Retail Installment Sales Agreements, but little else.) It may be standard for that retailer, but no government regulator has vetted it. Contract signer beware.
There are some legal limits on sales contracts to sell a house, but still plenty of room to favor the buyer or the seller, depending who drafts the contract. I used to almost cry when someone would call and ask me to come with them to settlement to make sure it all goes right. There is little a lawyer can do at that point but hold your hand. The right time was when you as buyer made a written offer, or you as seller got the written offer to buy.
Employment contracts can have all kinds of stuff in them, and when there are significant dollars at stake both employer and employee should have a lawyer involved. Same for a contract, for example, to buy or sell a business, or engage a company to take over maintaining your computer system.
My son got an offer from a big New York company to publish his book. It was thirty pages. He, his agent and I spent three months back and forth with the publisher on the detailed language before he signed. However, many authors sign whatever a publisher hands them, happy to get anything, unhappy in a couple years when the publisher screws them (for example, on the e-book version). The agent, of course, is happy to nail down a commission.
When it comes to contracts, it doesn’t pay to do it yourself. Reality is “Let the buyer and seller beware.” And in a deal of any real importance both of them should get their lawyer involved before they sign.