In my Self Employment 101 post, I emphasized the need to have a lawyer look over contracts before you sign them. Scott points to a post by Dave Taylor that brings this point home clearly with examples. One of my favorites is the “might“ one. When ready by a lay person, it sounds like a reasonable precaution on the publisher's part. But when read by a lawyer, all sorts of red flags and flashing lights start going off.
Read the contract excerpts he provides. As you do, each one sounds reasonable at first, but then as you read Dave's reaction to these you realize how dangerous they could be to your future. It doesn't matter if this is their "standard boilerplate". You can get changes, and you need to. But if you didn't have a lawyer who is trained to look for these sort of details, or someone like Dave who is already knowledgeable, you could easily miss something that will be a real hassle later on. (And Dave probably got his experience by talking with his lawyer over previous contract terms repeatedly).
Always remember: Whoever provides the initial contract template has the advantage. You have to assume that person has built in numerous clauses, no matter how innocuous sounding, to protect themselves to the utmost without much concern for the inconvenience it may put on the other party. And that's okay. Just remember that you have the right to ask for everything you need to protect yourself, too. After all, there's a reason this is called a contract negotiation. You're making a deal about the terms of your work. Go for the best deal you can get without hurting the work process.
The reason I keep hammering on this is that most people, especially when new to self-employment, are way too timid in what they will ask for themselves. Ask! Deal! And get a lawyer to explain what points are highest priority and what you can or cannot live with. You'll be glad you did.
posted @ Wednesday, November 17, 2004 11:55 PM