While it is not strictly required to have a lawyer draft a contract, it is highly recommended in most cases. A lawyer can help ensure the contract is legally enforceable and protects your interests. There are some exceptions where simple, standard form contracts may not require legal advice.
What is a contract?
A contract is a legally binding agreement between two or more parties. Contracts can be written or verbal. Written contracts provide more legal protection as there is a physical record of the terms. Contracts typically outline:
- The responsibilities of each party
- Timelines or deadlines
- Payment and delivery terms
- Conditions for terminating the contract
- Dispute resolution procedures
- Limitations of liability
Examples of common contracts include employment contracts, lease agreements, service agreements, and sales contracts.
Benefits of having a lawyer review a contract
There are several key benefits to having a lawyer assist with drafting or reviewing a contract:
- Ensures contract is legally enforceable – Lawyers understand contract law and will craft contracts that abide by regulations and can stand up if challenged in court.
- Protects your interests – Lawyers can add protective clauses and language to limit liability and risk.
- Clarifies complex issues – Lawyers can explain complex legal terminology and ensure both parties fully understand the terms.
- Prevents costly mistakes – Simple errors like typos or unclear language can lead to expensive legal disputes down the road.
- Saves time and money – The upfront cost of having a lawyer assist is often significantly less than the cost of fixing problems at a later date.
When can you make a contract without a lawyer?
In some limited cases, it may be reasonable to create a contract yourself without involving a lawyer:
- Simple purchase contracts for small, low-risk transactions
- Routine service contracts with contractors you’ve worked with previously under the same terms
- Straightforward independent contractor agreements for short-term projects
- Basic rental contracts using standard lease templates
- Non-disclosure agreements using a standard template
However, it is still recommended to have a lawyer review any contract where there is significant money, liability risks, or intellectual property involved. The cost of hiring an attorney is often a worthwhile investment and insurance policy.
Key elements to include in a contract
If you do create a contract without an attorney, be sure to include key elements:
- Names and contact information of all parties
- Clear description of goods, services, or obligations
- Payment amount and schedule
- Timeline, deadlines, and conditions that trigger actions
- Terms and process for terminating the contract
- Provisions for settling disputes
- Clauses limiting liability
- Signatures of all parties involved
Consult sample contracts or templates as a starting point. Be as detailed and specific as possible. Define ambiguous terms.
While hiring a lawyer to draft or review a contract may involve some upfront expense, the benefits typically outweigh the costs in the long run. A legally sound contract protects your interests and prevents misunderstandings down the road. Simple contracts between parties who have worked together previously under similar terms may not require legal advice. However, it is prudent to have an attorney review any contract where there is significant liability, money exchanging hands, or intellectual property involved. Investing in legal advice early on can often pay dividends by avoiding issues arising later.
Protect yourself with a well-crafted contract
Contracts are a critical tool for formalizing agreements and safeguarding your business. While you can certainly create straightforward contracts yourself in some cases, it is almost always advisable to have an attorney assist with drafting and reviewing contracts to catch errors, close loopholes, clarify language, and provide legal protection. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to contracts. Don’t leave things to chance – involve a knowledgeable lawyer to ensure your contract is sound. The peace of mind and potential liability avoided is well worth the relatively small upfront investment. Protect yourself, your customers, and your business by making contracts a priority.
How much does it cost to have a lawyer review a contract?
The cost of having a lawyer review a contract can vary significantly based on the attorney’s experience level, your location, and the complexity of the contract. However, here are some rough estimates on what to expect:
- Simple contracts (1-2 pages) – $200 – $500+
- Average contracts (3-10 pages) – $500 – $1500+
- Complex contracts (10+ pages) – $1500+
Many lawyers will provide a free initial consultation to evaluate your contract and provide a cost estimate. While their hourly rates may seem high, spending a little more for an attorney can pay off by identifying clauses that put you at risk. Be leery of lawyers charging significantly below market rates, as you often get what you pay for. The lowest bidder may not provide adequate protection. Compare several quotes, look for fixed fee options, and invest in a lawyer you trust.
5 tips for making contracts without a lawyer
If you move forward with a contract without legal advice, keep these tips in mind:
- Use clear, simple language understood by all parties.
- Avoid ambiguous terms that could be open to interpretation.
- Define complicated or specialized terms.
- Be extremely detailed and specific throughout.
- Have all parties carefully review before signing.
Also consider these precautions:
- Use standard form contracts or proven templates.
- Start with contracts similar parties have executed before.
- Focus on short-term, low dollar value deals.
- Include mediation clauses to facilitate dispute resolution.
While no contract can be ironclad, following best practices can help minimize risks when legal counsel is not engaged. But remember, hiring a lawyer is almost always money well spent, even if you think a contract seems straightforward.