Legal Contracts – not what they used to be

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Over the past 15 years, I have managed numerous businesses, all of which came with their own challenges in managing relationships with staff, customers and suppliers. These relationships typically start on a good footing, with a common goal or a shared vision. Nevertheless, it is very common that at some point, one party in the relationship wants more or less than what was originally envisaged or agreed upon. It is for this reason that we need legal contracts, but we all tend to procrastinate when it comes to initiating them, primarily for two reasons:

1. There is nothing that spoils the synergy and cohesion of a new relationship more than having to work through all the eventualities of things going wrong; and
2. These contracts cost money, which many business owners are reluctant to spend on something that may or may not be needed – especially when you already have so many other expenses to attend too.

To save costs, many of us resort to using outdated online templates that are not actually suited to our specific circumstances, or we adapt somebody else’s contract to our purposes. But often we learn the hard way that the only thing worse than having no contract in place, is in fact, having a half-baked one giving a false sense of confidence.

Luckily, new legal technologies have finally introduced a solution for this age-old problem. With a little research, you will discover numerous new legal platforms harnessing basic AI algorithms to vastly reduce the cost of providing customised contracts. So how do you go about choosing the one that is the best fit for you?

I’ve done some research, so you don’t have to. Here are the top 5 criteria for selecting a reliable online contract provider to draft contracts that you can depend on, at a fraction of the cost of paying a lawyer:

1. Legal Support

Tech is great, it can do amazing things for us, but at the end of the day, one wants to know that it’s supported by real people. We’re not ready for the AI robots to take over yet. So, select a site where you know that help is just a phone call away.

2. Some sites just offer Legal contract templates

On the surface, many of these sites may seem to be offering the same type of legal contracts, but some of these are just templates. I strongly advise you stay away from templates, as very little has been done to customise these to your specific circumstances, which means you’ll be left trying to rework the contract to your own purposes (and extremely dangerous undertaking if you’re not a lawyer!). Templates are also often designed as a ‘one size fits all’, making them unnecessarily bulky, convoluted and confusing. When one considers the modest amount needed for something so much better, it doesn’t make sense to use a template.

3. Clause Libraries

Some of these sites are designed more for lawyers to draft contracts than for the man on the street. These sites draw multiple legal clauses from a Legal clause library and require the user to select the most appropriate one. This will save lawyers a lot of time in drafting contracts, but without the necessary experience to know which clause is most applicable to your circumstance, you will most likely not end up with a dependable contract.

4. Clear legal explanations

The law covers a vast range of topics, which is why even lawyers specialise in certain areas. Select a website that isn’t just taking your money in return for a contract, but takes the time to explain the law pertaining to your contract. Any good lawyer would take the time to explain to you the law he feels is pertinent to your circumstances.

5. Step-by-step

Most importantly, use a platform that simulates the question/answer process you would expect from speaking to your lawyer. For example, the website should only ask questions that are relevant to your transaction or circumstances. You should be guided through an intuitive question-and-answer process that illustrates a clear understanding of the details of your transaction. These types of questions are necessary to lead you down a step-by-step process to gather all the relevant information to a complete your customised contract.

Importantly, the final result should be a legal contract that is fully drafted (no confusing gaps for you to fill in) and tailored to the specifics of your exact contract. In other words, the online drafting process should give you a bespoke contract that’s ready for signature. If you’re having to play at being your own lawyer by making changes to the document, you’re in dangerous waters. A generic or partially completed document also won’t give all of the parties signing the contract the confidence necessary to build a thriving and good relationship.

If you’re somebody like me, who sees resolving conflict as a major distraction from one’s core business, then it’s worth spending the time and money upfront on a solid contract.

In this way, inevitable disputes can potentially be resolved in minutes, rather than in a drawn-out court battle lasting months or years with the cost disproportionate to the original issue at hand.

Pierre van HeldenPierre van Helden is the Creative Director and Business Development Manager at LawUnlocked, an online platform offering legally-binding contracts specially crafted for use in South Africa. Visit:

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