Pounds versus Ounces, or How I Learned the Value of Reviewing Agreements BEFORE Signing

I got an e-mail from a friend of mine a few weeks ago. I saw it coming in, watching the progress bar slowly move, wondering what was attached.

Since I was the recipient, I should have known it would be a contract. Sho’ nuff.

In classic hindsight form, the e-mail was pretty much a one-liner: “Check out the last line of the attached contract.”

Um, ok.

So I ask of all of you… what’s the value of fully reviewing an agreement before you sign it?  I suggest that it’s about 1/10th the cost of reviewing afterwards.

To be frank, there’s not much more to say on this topic.  When you get an agreement, review it.  Sounds simple, as most contract-related things do.  But it’s putting it into practice that’s the rub.

First you have to actually GET the agreement.  Sometimes that means begging or borrowing.  Then you need to read it.  This requires someone with the skills to know what they’re reading.  Sometimes that means a lawyer, sometimes that means a contracts professional… sometimes it just means YOU (who may or may not have the background to do the job).  Thus, reading isn’t enough.  Comprehension is also required.  So ask questions, dig for answers.  Make certain that anything you don’t understand is written in a way that you do understand.

Typically, this is the negotiation process.  Then, when you think you’re done.  Re-read the entire things again with the new language.  Make sure that the whole agreement flows together and that inter-document referrals make logical sense (ie: if it says see section 10 and there isn’t a section 10, you need to revise the agreement again).

OK… here comes the fun part.  Start thinking of the “what ifs”.  These are the problems that might happen.  The maybes.  The “what happens when x happens” questions.  My business owners tend to get frustrated at times when I ask these questions.  Their eyes have turned rosy.  My eyes, however, are clear and I remember what a mentor once said to me: “Contracts are not for the marriage… they’re for the divorce.”

Now, and only now, should you start to think about signing it.  All of your power exists right before you both sign and most of your power is lost once signed.  So if there’s something you want to clarify, explain, elaborate, etc…. do that now.

Does it still look good?  OK.  NOW you can sign.  (But make sure you get your fully-executed copy for your records.)

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