Contracts They Can Understand

Don’t you hate it when you are presented with a set of terms and conditions covering two full pages of closely packed (very small font) text? You take one look at it and your first thought is to simply sign it and move on, because it looks far too much to read.

But then you think of the possible legal implications of not reading it, so off you go. But now you have another problem; some of the sentences are so long, you lose track of what they are trying to pin you down on. And some sentence construction is so convoluted, you have to read it several times before (you think) you understand it.

There has to be a better way to treat your own clients. Why subject them to the same legal harassment as you sometimes have to cope with from some of your suppliers (particularly the large corporations)?

Yes, you can definitely do a better job of your client contracts, but before we get into that, I have to say right up front that if you do write your own client contract wording, please get it checked out by a legal expert before you use it. I am not giving legal advice here – only writing advice. (OK, that’s my legal obligation over with…)

The Basics

There are certain basic elements that should be considered for inclusion in all client contracts:

  • Confidentiality of data – both yours and your client’s.
  • Payment terms – and any late payment fees applicable.
  • Contract not changeable except in writing – signed by both parties.
  • Dispute resolution – what legal steps are the agreed method of resolving disputes.

Apart from that, there will usually be some special clauses that relate to your unique circumstances, products, services, etc. For instance, you may want to outline the particular steps you take in delivering your service, so there can be no comeback about how you did the job.

Be aware that most client contracts build up over time. You start with a basic statement, but you then find that someone rips you off in some way, so you add a clause in your client contract to protect you from that in the future. In this way your client contract will grow in size. We just hope that it will never reach the ridiculous end of the two-page, tightly packed, small font contract you personally hate.

The Style and Wording

You do have to be precise in a legal document, but you do not have to be pompous, or deliberately complicated. Just make your statements very firmly, so there can be no question as to what you mean.

You would usually start off by naming your company and the client’s organisation as the contracting parties. Make sure there is sufficient detail to definitely identify your client here, like a government-issued tax or identifying number.

It is a good idea to number all paragraphs and clauses, so they can be referred to in any legal discussions. Using paragraph numbers makes it all very exact and specific. As an example, if it is paragraph 4, sub-para 3, sub-sub-para 6, the reference would be 4.3.6. Most word processing programs will give you the capability of creating numbered paragraphs of this nature.

When you write it, use normal, everyday language, but be specific and direct. Leave nothing to interpretation. Repeat words if necessary, to be absolutely certain that there can be no dual meanings. For example: “Client agrees to pay all invoices within seven days of invoice issue date.” In terms of everyday sentence structure, you could leave out the second “invoice”, but it then leaves you open to someone interpreting the “issue date” as something other than the “invoice issue date”.

If you follow these suggestions, you will have a client contract that reads really well and is easy for your clients to understand. However, don’t forget to get a legal person to go over it and make any “legal” adjustments they feel are necessary.