Contracts are essential elements of any business- whether you're a wall street broker or a massage therapist. But legal stuff is scary- even the word 'contracts' is enough to to make some of us glossy-eyed and tune out. If you're in business for yourself, and especially if you're thinking about teaming up with someone else (a yoga studio, a second shooter, a joint venture, an affiliate, and so on...) Check out these three simple additions that can make your contracts better.
1. Understand that a contract is basically a list of expectations between two people (or parties.)
When you subtract the legalese and lawyers from a contract, all that's left is an agreement- aka, a list of expectations. In fact, you don't even technically need to have a formal contract to have a binding agreement of expectations- sometimes email is enough. This actually makes it all the MORE important for you to actually have a contract in place, because a written contract can trump a bunch of loosely written emails and willy-nilly expectations. Without a proper contract in place that specifically supercedes any other writings (emails, texts, etc.)--more on that in #3-- if a legal dispute arises out of your relationship with another party or person you could be stuck with an obligation or responsibility you made via email when you were drunk at a friend's wedding, or worse, right after a conference when you were high on ambition.
2. Use normal people language.
Everybody's doing it. Even lawyers. Legalese is soooo 20th century. There's a few terms we lawyers throw around that still have some value ("hereinafter," "wherein,") but if you're not a lawyer, you're probably not using the term correctly. Heck, some lawyers still get it wrong after years and years of practicing. But no worries, because the trend is towards contracts written in plain English. It's always better to say what you mean than to say something weird and hope it makes sense.
3. Don't forget to cover your butt.
A lot of contracts that come my way leave out three essential things:
a) A section that states this is the entirety of the agreement.
This one is so essential. Remember that drunk email you sent at a wedding to your would-be business partner? If you don't have a section in your contract that basically says THIS IS THE WHOLE AGREEMENT you could get burned later by emails, texts and other documents that could be considered part of the contract.
b) A section that states how a matter will be resolved should things go South between the parties.
No one wants to consider that good things can and do come to an end at at some point. Are you familiar with the super-popular and fun prenuptial agreement? Yeah, no one is. It's annoying at best and gut-wrenching at worst to think of the worst case scenario, but unfortunately, as life proves over and over again, it's crucial for mitigating supreme awfulness later. You need to decide what you want if things go poorly with the other person or party, and how you will get that thing you want. This is called a remedy, you can use that word and sound super knowledgeable, or like a mom wielding a jar of Vick's Vaporub.
c) A section that says what happens if a remedy is needed.
Are y'all going to sue each other? Because there are alternatives. Lots of them. You could agree to meet with a mediator before you take the issue to court. At this point, I'm not even going to call it court. I'm just going to call it $$$lots of money$$$ so we're all on the same page. To avoid going to $$$lots of money$$$, mediation or arbitration, collectively called alternative dispute resolution (ADR), can both be great options. Either of these methods of resolution involve a neutral party working to help both parties, and can potentially save you from spending $$$lots of money$$$ if you include a section in the contract that says you'll go to ADR before court. Ugh, sorry guys, I said the 'C' word.
Do you use contracts? Why or why not?