Everyday Contracts: Avoiding the Pitfalls

   We all get inundated with paper work, both at the office and at home.  It seems that everywhere we turn we are being asked to sign contracts for things like telephone systems, office equipment, marketing and advertising services, computer services and office space.  The business owner, busy with running the company, is bombarded with so much paper, that it is almost impossible to give contracts more than just a quick glance before signing them.

   Most of the agreements we are asked to sign appear to be standard, boilerplate contracts. Unfortunately, many of them contain clauses designed to trap the unwary. We assume that the terms of the deal which were verbally discussed with the vendor, service provider, landlord, or supplier will be contained in the written agreement.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to later find a number of surprises, including charges which were never agreed upon. 

   Contrary to the popular belief that most of the terms contained in standard contracts, especially those offered by large companies, are not subject to change, many of them in fact are negotiable.  Negotiating changes can often  save you time, money and trouble. You should request revisions to all of the contract terms which are important and which you find unacceptable, with the expectation that at least some of your requests will be honored. Of course, you also don’t want to break a deal by being unreasonable.
    How does one avoid problems?  Of course, reviewing all agreements more carefully is a great start. It also makes sense to have an attorney review these agreements.  The cost of having an attorney review your contracts does not have to be prohibitive.  First, you can dictate the scope of the work you want.  For example, you can ask the attorney to give it a quick review, without putting comments in writing.  Additionally, you can review it first and request that the attorney only review those provisions which you have questions about or don’t understand.  If preferred, you can then negotiate the changes which need to be made, instead of having the attorney do it for you. After a while, you will become more familiar with the language which one can reasonably expect to find in contracts and those which tend to cause problems.
    While the day-to-day operation of one’s business is the priority, it is imperative that we all take time to review contracts carefully.  Retaining the services of a knowledgeable attorney can ease the burden and help to save you time and  money.


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