Riverview Law, the fixed-priced legal services business, has issued a warning to businesses about making sure they read and understand the terms and conditions of contracts they are signing. The warning comes after it emerged that even multi-national companies like Apple don’t read the small print. They recently admitted not even picking up the 25 page terms and conditions given to them by FBI-NSA agents working on the Prism surveillance programme. Solicitor, Natasha Maddock, says reading every part of a contract can save a lot of problems later on: “Standard terms and conditions are often one-sided and by signing them you could commit to something that you’re not able to deliver. Reading through and understanding what is expected of you, before you sign a contract, can help you not only negotiate some of the points but it could also allow you to add some terms and conditions of your own.” Natasha has put together five top tips for dealing with terms and conditions:
- Get it in writing: Business agreements can often be made informally. If this does happen then it’s difficult to know when the contract was formed and what the terms of the contract are. Get the deal clearly set out in writing as soon as possible.
- Read and understand: Read the terms and conditions fully, including any supporting documents, and understand what it is they mean. It is important that you understand what is expected of you and the other party. Be mindful too that you don’t also commit to something that your sub-contractors cannot deliver. If you’re unsure ask for legal advice to ensure your best interests are also considered.
- Negotiate: If there is anything in the small print you’re not happy with, say so. It might be that the ‘standard’ terms and conditions given to you are not fit for purpose so highlight this and discuss how you can come to some agreement. If negotiating is not possible, but the contract is too important to pass up, then carry out a risk assessment to identify areas of concern and make sure you prepare for any knock on effects that might occur.
- Keep it confidential: If while negotiating you need to disclose confidential business information or ideas, then get both parties to sign a confidentiality (non-disclosure) agreement to ensure your confidential information remains secure.
- If in doubt, ask: Commercial contract drafting is a complex issue, if you have any doubt about what you’re about to sign, no matter how small, seek specialist legal advice.
“Contracts can be daunting”, says Natasha, “but that does not mean that you have to just go with what the first draft says. By taking time to get things right at the start you can avoid costly delays and disputes in the future. ”