We see it all the time: the client who comes to us after they have tried doing their legal work themselves and now they find out they are in trouble. They bought legal forms off of a random website to save a little money. Or they used a legal form they found on a competitor’s site. The trouble starts when they find out they used the wrong form.
Maybe they are in a dispute over fees for their services. Or maybe the client is demanding additional work that wasn’t anticipated in the price quoted. Or worse – maybe they are facing litigation.
We see clients use online forms without editing things like jurisdiction and venue. They may end up stuck dealing with courts in another state, or even inserting unenforceable provisions into their agreements. It’s not pretty.
Our standard advice, of course, is that you need a lawyer to draft and/or review your contracts, set up your business, negotiate your deals, and prepare other legal documents. Suzanne spent years in the classroom to get her degrees, pass the bar exam, and have the right to practice law. And she has been practicing in the area of business law for ten years. You won’t get the kind of experience and advice from a web site that you will from a practicing attorney.
Put another way: Google isn’t handing out law degrees.
We are not naive, however. We know that our clients will continue to write at least some of their own contracts and legal documents. When you are running a business, you look for every opportunity to save costs. But the question is: when can you do it yourself and when should you call your lawyer?
You should never try to draft a complex agreement on your own. The more complicated the situation, the less likely it is you should try to go it alone. For straightforward, industry standard agreements – like many forms for setting up business entities and services agreements – you may be fine on your own, but you might still want a lawyer to help you determine if you are using the right form in the first place.
Don’t try to merge two or more different forms of an agreement to try to make your own agreement out of the pieces you like. It’s easy to get yourself into trouble that way, leaving out terms that are important or including terms that you don’t want or need. Leave customization to your lawyer.
You should never try to write your own contract if you don’t understand the law around it. How long can a non-compete agreement run? Who owns the intellectual property rights to your work product when you are done? If you’ve got questions about the form you are using, or if you are unsure whether the form is the right one to start with, call a lawyer.
If you are going to do it yourself, you should start with a known good form of the agreement you need. We offer forms and bundles on this site to help you get started on the right foot, and we bundle those forms with a discounted mini-consultation to help you get rolling. We know the forms are good in Florida – we use them daily in our practice as a starting point for our clients’ work.
You should edit our legal forms only as much as necessary to meet your needs, leaving the boilerplate intact. All of that legal mumbo jumbo that we lawyers put into contracts is there for a reason, after all, and that reason is to protect you.
Knowing when you can do it yourself and when to call a lawyer can be a tough call. We’re here to help.
Carlos Carbonell, CEO, Echo Interaction Group
Rob Henlon, Fierce Entertainment
Michelle Widmer, Founder & Director of Events, The Empress Table
Rodney E. Luke, President, Luke Brothers Custom Homes