Making sense of legal contracts can be difficult, but one Vancouver-based company has just launched a new Web site, ContractTailor.com, aimed at helping users create customized legal agreements online.
The site went live just over a week ago after a beta period of six months.
Users can create contracts about confidentiality, e-commerce, services, intellectual property, non-competition, promissory notes, and sales agreements; one contract costs $129. After using the contract selector tool, they pay up-front, and then move into the editor tool.
According to creator Chilwin Cheng, this gives users wizard-like prompt and steps that fill in the duration of the contract, the parties’ names, and draft the clauses. User-friendliness is most important to Cheng—roll-overs provide users with constant explanation of what everything is, in plain language. This customizability and user aid are what set ContractTailor apart from other sites and contract-making DIY kits, he says.
Users can then print the contract, or, if they’re signed up with a subscription plan ($60 per month), they can keep the RTF file.
The site also has a continued care option that allows users to run their finished contract by a lawyer; it involves a lawyer offering their feedback for a fixed fee, and users only pay for the support they need. This process, says Cheng, is far more cost-effective than having a lawyer draft up a contract from scratch.
Founder and lawyer Cheng has segued from a traditional law career to that of tech entrepreneur in the name of user-friendliness and affordability—he started with FiredWithoutCause.com and he sees ContractTailor as the next step in his pursuit of affordable justice for all.
“A lot of people feel that technology is the future of the law profession because it can help us do the same thing faster and cheaper,” he says. Instead, technology should allow users to do different things that they would maybe not be able to do at all because of budget restrictions.
Cheng hopes that the site will help people who regularly wouldn’t have access to a lawyer. “Not a week goes by that you don’t hear about the access to justice crisis,” says Cheng.
It’s all about the continuum, he says—those who can afford it can have the contract looked over by their own lawyer or take advantage of the site’s continued care option, while those who just want a customized contract will at least have that assistance.
The site hopes to partner in the future with more lawyers who will be able to offer the service to their clients looking for affordable services and aftercare, but without the expense of having an entire contract done up.
George Goodall, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, says that there is a trend towards self-help in the online sphere.
“The use of downloadable and customizable templates remains very popular and there is a growing trend in online self-help resources such as videos,” he says. “The main pro is convenience. Contracts are essentially agreements between two parties made in good faith. They don’t necessarily require the intervention and cost of professional legal help. But sometimes that help is necessary to understand the more subtle points of law, to avoid future challenges to the contract, or to understand best practice. A lawyer, for example, can help parties build a tight contract.”
Gail McInnes, owner of PR firm Magnet Creative will not move forward with a new client without a signed contract detailing the responsibilities and obligations of each party, including payment schedules, a breakdown of the services provided, and also noting a non-disclosure of all terms discussed between both parties.
“It is so important that everything is laid out clearly from the beginning,” she says. “Once everything is on paper, it really helps both parties move forward and lessens any disagreements or issues which may arise. Fortunately, I have had some really great clients and have never had any contractual issues, but that’s not to say it may not happen in the future. It’s always best to be prepared for any worst case scenario.”
During her time as a model agent, McInnes dealt with clients sending her a standardized release. “They had obviously taken it from some templates that don’t even set the terms of the initial negotiation,” she says. “This misuse of contracts ends up taking up so much more time as it draws out the negotiation process and could jeopardize the actual job for all involved.”
She thinks that a service like ContractTailor would be great as a starting point. But, McInnes says, she would always recommend having a lawyer reviewing it.
“I wouldn’t advise creating a contract without having a lawyer look it over to ensure there aren’t any holes,” she says.