Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, an Okanagan based-law practice. She has been practicing law since 1994, with brief stints away to begin raising children. Susan has experience in many areas of law, but is most drawn to areas in which she can make a positive difference in people’s lives, including employment law. She has been a member of the Law Society of Alberta since 1994 and a member of the Law Society of British Columbia since 2015. Susan grew up in Saskatchewan. Her parents were both entrepreneurs, and her father was also a union leader who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of workers. Before moving to B.C., Susan practiced law in both Calgary and Fort McMurray, AB. Living and practicing law in Fort McMurray made a lasting impression on Susan. It was in this isolated and unique community that her interest in employment law, and Canada’s oil sands industry, took hold. In 2013, Susan moved to the Okanagan with her family, where she currently resides. photo:contributed

Kootnekoff: Drafting your own contracts

In today’s age, there is no shortage of readily available tools allowing you to write your own contracts.

Stationery supply stores carry self-help books on how to write your own contract. You can search for any type of contract, and easily find numerous online tools. You input certain requested information, and for a limited fee, voila, you now have a contract.

With such easily available, simple and inexpensive tools as these, who the heck needs a lawyer anymore?

While there might be certain very simple types of contracts that are well suited to these tools, the fact is that they are pretty few and far between.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

One of the problems with writing your own contract is that you do not have a crystal ball and do not know how things will transpire.

In the beginning, parties are usually positive and upbeat. They often do not think that big problems could arise later.

Once problems do arise, however, it is then too late to “fix” a poor contract, or worse yet, make an unenforceable contract become enforceable.

A number of problems can arise from writing your own contract. The big one is that the document may not be worth the paper it is written on. It may be not be binding, leaving you no better off than having no contract. This happens more often than you might think. I have seen this arise in my practice.

Another problem that I have seen arise is including provisions that violate provincial or federal law. For this reason alone, it is often worth having an experienced lawyer review your draft contract.

A self-help kit, or an online contract site, can not digest what you want to achieve with your contract, or assess the myriad of laws that may come into play. There is a lot of law out there, some of it rather archaic, some of it very specialized and not within the average person’s mind. These laws may apply to your situation. It may be advisable to address them in your contract, to reduce your legal risks.

Sometimes, the subject matter of your contract may involve laws that require very precise wording, or your contract may not be binding.

Other problems include:

  • Improperly identifying the parties
  • Failing to include provisions that could protect you if you are sued for breach of contract
  • Key provisions being unenforceable, such as non-compete or non-solicitation provisions
  • Your document interferes with another contract that binds you or the other party

Business problems can arise, also. For example, having a contract that just looks bad to those with contract experience. You may come across as unprofessional and the other party may decide not to deal with you.

If legal problems arise with a contract, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees attempting to deal with the fallout.

Having a lawyer draft a contract of course does not guarantee that you will not be sued. It does, however, increase the chance that you will be in a better position if this occurs.

So, next time you are tempted to draft your own contract, consider asking yourself if the few hundred dollars, or even the thousands of dollars, quoted by a lawyer to draft it might actually be a darn good investment.

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