Last month the shower started leaking. Plumbers are expensive, I thought to myself, and I can't wait around, I'll just fix it myself.
I watched a video on YouTube. Called my dad, who isn't a plumber but who uses a shower and has many tools. At lunchtime I popped into the hardware and bought an impressive washer turning thingummyjig.
You know where this is going.
After much grunting, slipping, swearing but no stopping of the leak I called a friend and got the name of a local plumber. He came that afternoon, produced the correct tool, quickly fixed the washer, serviced the taps and couple of other jobs. I paid him his very reasonable fee with pleasure.
I'm sure every plumber has a ton of DIY failures they were called out to fix. Unfortunately most lawyers have a few stories too.
In the past month I've had two clients who entered agreements without getting legal advice first. Unfortunately, unlike my shower, there wasn't a quick fix. It was very much more expensive, complex and stressful to address the problem than if they had consulted a lawyer in the first place.
With widespread online knowledge bases and forums it is getting easier to find answers through the keyboard. A number of online comprehensive legal document providers offer DIY legal agreements at attractive prices. My Scottish heritage means I hate wasting money so I understand the attraction. It may be that I only see the ones that go wrong but some problems I have seen in DIY documents include naming the wrong legal entity, mistake on the due date for a key term, reference to defined terms which are meaningless and omitting parts of the deal.
No matter who prepares a legal document, here are two key pieces of advice:
- don’t sign a document you haven’t read and understood; and
- without legal advice, you don’t know what you haven’t understood about the document you are signing.
Just as my plumber spotted a couple of problems I didn’t know I had, a lawyer is trained to identify and minimise the risk of future problems.
Once you sign a contract, you are stuck with it. Before you sign, think about:
- is another party preparing the legal documents because they have more experience with commercial contracts or have legal training? Do their interests differ from yours?
- have you read all of it?
- are you handing over something valuable (goods, services or your idea) before getting paid in full. If you are counting on getting a considerable amount of money in the future from the other party(s) to the agreement how are you protected if they don't pay up?
- if you are entering the agreement jointly with others, will your obligations increase if the others fail to do what they have promised. Is there a cap?
If you can’t afford to take the risk that others don’t uphold their side of the deal, then can you afford to sign an agreement without first getting legal advice?
I help business owners resolve disputes in a way that minimizes the disruption and expense those disputes can cause. I share posts regularly and tweet @BreakupBusiness. If you wish to keep up to date with issues affecting setting up, and breaking up, businesses follow me.