The internet has made life much easier in a lot of respects. When it comes to putting together a contract, or terms and conditions for a new website, or even a Will, a lot of entrepreneurial thinkers will say to themselves – there must be a form for that, right? Why pay a lawyer to draft something up when I can do it myself? After all, it wouldn’t be on the internet if it wasn’t any good, right?
That last question was tongue in cheek, obviously. While there are a lot of great sources of information on the internet, it can often be more expensive to get “free” advice online than to just call up your attorney and get a professional on the case.
1. A template may not comply with your state’s laws.
Many online forms are drafted with a generic one size fits all approach that may work in most states – but not all! Every state has different laws regarding commercial contracts, regulating consumer protection issues, requiring certain industry disclosures, execution of estate planning documents like Wills and trusts, and more. Sometimes a form contract will include language which is completely unenforceable in your state! Your agreement may be regulated by certain requirements you are unaware of – but your lawyer will know about and account for.
2. Beware of hidden terms.
You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s not uncommon for legal forms to use language that seems plain but actually has a specific legal meaning in that context. Forms may also use legal jargon that non-lawyers interpret incorrectly. If you think you’re agreeing to one thing, and the other party has a different interpretation, you may have bought yourself a lawsuit with your free form (see #5 on this list!).
3. The devil is in the details!
Generic forms aren’t drafted with your business or your transaction in mind. There may be provisions that are missing entirely from a form, or one-size fits all language that actually doesn’t apply to your situation. It’s an attorney’s job to advise you on the impact of the language you use, and to craft the best words to apply to your situation. Your attorney should understand your needs.
4. Form language doesn’t always fit your needs.
There is a time and place for “boilerplate.” Many lawyers will have standard agreements that they use as a starting place for their clients – agreements they have spent a good deal of time working with and perfecting so that they can easily adjust for a specific client’s situation. But every deal is different, and that’s why having a professional involved to provide expertise on your situation is so important.
5. These errors can cost you – BIG!
In the end, the risk of using a DIY form comes down to time and money. Your attempt to save money on the front end may land you with a contract you can’t enforce, or which creates obligations you didn’t intend, or contains ambiguities that you can’t resolve without a court. You may end up suing (or being sued) – an expensive process with uncertain results. This is truly a case where an ounce of prevention is well worth the pound of cure. Consulting with a lawyer on the particulars of your contract and getting guidance through the process is the best protection against future risk.