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When drafting a contract, many individuals and businesses turn to an attorney. Although it is always advisable to have an attorney consult on or review any agreement before it is signed, one can save a lot of money in legal fees by writing a basic contract without the help of an attorney. Among the best tips for drafting a contract are writing in plain language, using or basing the contract on a generic contract form, clearly and fully identifying all parties involved, anticipating and accounting for any potential problems and having it reviewed by an attorney before it is signed.
First — and perhaps most importantly — one should avoid using a lot of confusing legalese. Unless the person drafting the contract is a lawyer writing for another lawyer, it is best for the contract to be written in language that the average layperson can understand. The easier a contract is to comprehend, the less likely it is to become the subject of complex litigation later.
A generic contract form can be obtained and used as a starting point for drafting a contract. For example, if a rental agreement needs to be drafted, there are many free landlord/tenant agreement template forms available online. The wording can be changed and specific clauses added as necessary to fit the situation.
The legal names of all involved parties should be clearly stated in the first paragraph. Individuals should be identified by their full first and last names, middle initials, and any other prefixes or suffixes that might be applicable. Corporations should be correctly identified as such by their full legal names. If the contract writer is unsure of a corporation's legal name, he or she should check the public records in the jurisdiction where the company was incorporated.
When drafting a contract, one should be careful with lists. If a list is preceded by the word "including," adding the phrase "but not limited to" is a good idea. Unless the list is all-inclusive, a person who signs the contract could end up in court later explaining why a certain disputed point was not included in that list.
Anticipating the possible problems and "what if" scenarios that could develop down the road is always a wise idea. A written agreement should address them, just in case such a situation actually arises. While brainstorming, one should keep a notepad handy to scribble down ideas for clauses and issues that must be addressed in drafting a contract, so that they are not forgotten.
The contract will likely go through several drafts and revisions before the final agreement is signed. To avoid confusion, each draft should be dated and numbered on the top of the first page. It also recommended for the word "DRAFT" to be written or stamped across each page to prevent the wrong draft being signed by mistake. Also, if the drafts are stored on a computer, each version should be stored under a different file name, with increasing numbers given to each subsequent version. For example, a first draft might be named "draft1," followed by "draft2," "draft3" and so forth.
All pages of the final agreement should be printed on the same stock and quality of paper. This will ensure that no questions arise later about new pages possibly being added after the original contract was signed. Each party also should initial every page of the contract to avoid claims that pages were substituted. As a final tip, having all of the parties sign the agreement in blue ink will distinguish the original contract from any photocopies that are made.
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