Have you ever felt unwell and researched your symptoms on the internet because you were too lazy to go to a doctor? I definitely have (my favorite online health consultant is WebMd). WebMd usually gives me a whole list of possible conditions ranging from common cold to cancer. So I self diagnose and self medicate which leaves me feeling much worse. In the end, I go see a doctor but not without first putting myself through pain, and misery. I have noticed that business owners do the same thing when it comes to legal issues.
As a business owner, you will find yourself in a situation when you need a written contract with clients, customers, and vendors. Most business owners I know consult with LegalZoom or Google or other online resource to get quick templates that they think are not too complicated. They either customize these templates or find multiple contracts on the internet, and create their own contract by copying language from different sources on the internet. But in a few months they run into trouble and eventually need to go to a lawyer to fix the mess they created.
My client, Lisa, is a graphic designer in New York. She was in need of a written contract for services she offered to her clients. Lisa didn’t want to spend money on an attorney and she thought she could get a barebones contract on the internet. She researched and found a design service agreement, made a few changes that she thought worked for her business and started using it with her clients.
Everything was going well for Lisa until she had a client object to the use of his logo on Lisa’s website. There was a clause in the agreement which assigned all rights and copyrights in designs she created to her clients without reserving any rights for herself to promote and showcase her creations, either on her website or otherwise. Lisa’s client threatened to sue her and that’s when she ran to get help from a lawyer. Not only did Lisa not understand the implications of the clause, she didn’t even know that she had an assignment clause in her contract.
Using WebMd or LegalZoom or other online resource in lieu of getting real help from experts can pose potential risk to your business. Technology has brought services to our fingertips – whether it is calling a car service or ordering food. But there are some services that need personal examination and involve talking to a human being. And legal services is just one of them.