As a Canadian entrepreneur and small business owner, chances are you’ve downloaded, at least once, a legal document from the Internet. Whether for an employment contract, a partnership agreement, a finder’s fee, a non-disclosure agreement, a final invoice letter or a general agreement, you’ve probably turned to the Internet in the hope that a free template would help you cut costs. After all, the terminology looks complex enough, so we may think the document will be good to use.
Here enters Randy Ai, an employment lawyer I met through my professional networking group. A couple of weeks later, we sat down to learn more about each other and our businesses. While we chatted – him about employment law and me about how social media can help businesses establish their online presence and grow – it became clear to me that we had great synergies. Most entrepreneurs and small business owners are always looking for ways to sustain our business while keeping costs down and stay profitable. The Internet and Google is where most of us turn for responses to our questions and for free documents. One of the topics Randy Ai and I tackled was how entrepreneurs and small businesses download legal templates from the Internet, and the cases he frequently sees in his practice. The conclusion is, “don’t cheap out on legal by downloading templates from the Internet”, and here is why.
The legal document you are downloading from the Internet contains irrelevant or too much information. Chances are that the template you found on the Internet is not customized to your business and situation. In addition, most templates are American or have an American focus, so they likely won’t be valid in Canada. The document may contain a high volume of extra noise that does not apply to your business situation and just adds irrelevant information. Unless you are legally trained, you don’t know how to separate the “junk” and the part of the contract that applies. As an example, the notion of Employment at will exists in most employment contract templates you’ll find online, but as this is an American concept, it can’t be enforced in Canada. Thus, you are exposing yourself and your business to liability and in case of dispute, you will have to hire a lawyer because part of the contract is invalid.
The legal document you are downloading from the Internet is missing key clauses. When you’re using a template off the Internet, these documents are not customized for your situation, as we’ve established. That means it puts you and your business at risk of liability. In case of a dispute, this sort of template is not tailored to your needs and you might as well have no agreement. Having missing information is as bad as having too little information or inadequate clauses that don’t protect you. When you are a business owner entering into a legally binding relationship with someone else, you need a solid contract that will take into account the types of issues that may take place.
The legal document you are using is easily attacked. A template downloaded from the Internet easily falls apart, since it was not drafted specifically for you and your business. A defense lawyer could easily attack the integrity of the document and compromise its validity in court. Furthermore, as the law changes frequently, a contract is not a static document. Thus, the downloaded template you’re using may be obsolete and no longer applicable. In addition, the wording alone can make your document unenforceable and easily attackable in case of a dispute. The judge can look at your document and decide it does not make sense. By using one of these documents, you’re exposing yourself to liability.
Now that I’ve explained why using a legal document from the Internet is useless at best and, at worse, dangerous for you and your business, there a few ways you can protect yourself and what you’re working so hard for:
1 – Legal fees are typically seen as a cost instead of an investment. Spending two to three hours with a lawyer can prevent you from being sued, being dragged to court or simply having to settle and pay someone large amounts of money. If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, you still may seek some legal advice through Legal Aid or through the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Lawyer Referral Service.
2 – If you still decide to download the template, we advise you to send it to a lawyer for review. This may cut down on costs. The industry standard is that entrepreneurs and small business owners should spend 5 to 8 percent of their initial capital on legal fees. As Randy Ai says, “If you’re not going to spend any money towards setting up your business, you are not doing your job as an entrepreneur.”
3 – Another reason to seek legal advice is that it brings credibility to your business and sends a strong signal to your ecosystem that you are serious about your success.
As an entrepreneur, I am aware that setting up a business requires lots of hard work and dedication. But there are areas where you can’t cut corners. Randy emphasized that legal advice is one of the cornerstones to setting up a successful and sustainable business. For any legal advice related to employment law, connect with Randy Ai by email (Randy@Randyai.com) or by telephone (416-716-2256).
Karima-Catherine is the co-founder of Red Dot Digital, a digital agency that strives to deliver top-notch solutions to various clients. Red Dot Digital drives real, meaningful, quantifiable business outcomes for companies. Karima-Catherine is also the co-moderator of #MMchat, a Twitter weekly forum which focuses on business, marketing and social media.
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