Thursday, August 27, 2015

Beware of Form Contracts – Why Your Business Needs a Tailored Agreement

As an attorney that regularly practices commercial litigation, I read a lot of contracts. Some good, most bad. One disturbing trend that I have noticed is the willingness of businesses – both small and large – to use form contracts or contracts created for other companies. The justification I hear is the belief that the contract must be good enough because a larger or older company is using it. The thinking is simple – “if it works for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?”


This isn’t a knock on Blumberg forms or other form contracts. They have their purpose and may work for some people. I do, however, take exception to the thought that because it’s good enough for someone else, it is good enough for your business. It’s not, and the fact that I just finished a trial on a ten year old breach of contract litigation confirms that every business needs its own tailored contract.

Form contracts and contracts written for other businesses do not take into account the traits that make your business unique. Every business has a differentiator, especially in highly regulated fields. When you use a form contract, you are failing to include language that accounts for and takes advantage of the differentiator that makes your business successful.

Form contracts typically are overbroad and are not sufficiently specific. Blumberg doesn’t know the nuances of the agreement between your business and your clients, so their contracts are intentionally drafted using vague, ambiguous and broad terms and topics. In a breach of contract litigation, ambiguities are the death of your contract. Not only are ambiguities construed against the drafter of the contract (yes, you are considered the drafter of the contract if you choose a form contract[1]), but once a court finds an ambiguity, the door is open to parole (extrinsic) evidence which can potentially modify the written contract.[2] If you are fighting about what the parties “thought” the contract meant, you have already lost the battle.

My ten year old breach of contract case likely never would have gone to trial if the business had used a contract tailored to their specific business instead of using a generic contract used for their industry in general. Because the form contract included services and methods of payment that were inapplicable to the business, following a motion for Summary Judgment (asking for a pre-trial decision by the Court as a matter of law), the Court held that the contract was ambiguous. Once it was determined that the contract was ambiguous, the defendant was allowed to introduce a slew of evidence of oral representations allegedly made by the business which made the defendant misunderstand the written terms of the contract. If the business had retained an attorney to draft a contract specifically for the services that they provided instead of using a form contract shared between multiple businesses in the industry, there likely would have never been a lawsuit in the first place, let alone a trial.  

If you have the ability to control the contents of your contract and you take a shortcut or the cheap way out, you are being penny-wise but pound-foolish. A rock solid contract decreases litigation costs and increases the chances that you will be compensated for your goods or services. A defaulting party is less likely to challenge a contract in Court if the language is straightforward and tailored specifically to address the dispute in question. Finally, in the event that you are forced to go to Court to enforce your contract, a tailored agreement decreases the chances that there will be a trial[3] to resolve what the parties were really agreeing to when they entered into a written contract that was supposed to memorialize their understanding and agreement.

Be wary of forms.  




[1] Interested Underwriters at Lloyds v. Ducor’s Inc., 103 A.D.2d 76 (1st Dept. 1984)
[2] Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. v. Wesolwski, 33 N.Y.2d 169 (1973).
[3] The interpretation and application of an unambiguous contract is a matter of law that may be disposed of in a motion for Summary Judgment, obviating the need for a trial. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. v. Wesolwski, 33 N.Y.2d 169 (1973).