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Attention Freelancers: You May Never Need an Attorney, but You Always Need a Contract for Your Services

Posted by Zehra Mahid | Jul 11, 2019 | 0 Comments

I've got good news for freelancers who can't afford an attorney. Drafting something yourself is better than nothing. Whether your work involves web design, writing, painting, photography, wedding planning, interior design, hair and makeup services, or any other creative endeavor, there is always a chance that your clients don't have a clear idea of what they want. There is an even better chance that your clients think they know what they want but will change their minds after you've already started your work. You don't want to get stuck in the middle of a project that's draining valuable time and energy because of muddled expectations and endless requests for revisions. Getting a contract in place will reduce the chances of your losing time, money and the opportunity to maintain long term relationships with clients. 

Here are some basic tips to help you get started:

Know the essential components of your deal. Think about what you do and what you need from your client in order to do it. Then spell it out: Mr. and Mrs. Smith will send a final play list of music for the March 31, 2018 wedding reception to DJ Jazzy Jazz at email [email protected] no later than March 25, 2018. 

Know that your proposal is not the same thing as your contract. Your proposal captures your concept and gives your client an understanding of your abilities. It could be 35 pages long and complete with colors and graphics. Your contract nails down the key components of your deal and sets expectations. Who, what, where, when, how, and above all else, for how much? The more detail you can include about your expectations around the obligations of each side, the better.  

Know that money involves more than just the amount of your fees. What is your hourly rate? What is the total amount of payment that you expect to receive? Do you expect a one time payment or payments over time? If you agree to get paid over time, how frequent will payments be and in what amounts? How do you want to handle late payments? Will you incur expenses? If so, who will assume those expenses? If you know that you will incur significant costs or have to decline additional business opportunities in order to take on this client, then you may want to include an early termination fee in the event that a client terminates the agreement without cause prior to the end of the agreement term. 

Know who will own what. The idea of laying out terms regarding intellectual property can be daunting for nonlegal people. However, this is an area that I strongly recommend you venture into so you are clear about who owns what. First and foremost, are you going to create original work through this engagement? If not, skip to the last paragraph. If so, who do you want to own your work? If you intend to give your client ownership, you will want to include a clause stating that this is your intent: “Developer hereby assigns all right, title and interest in the work created under the terms of this Agreement to Client, except that Developer specifically reserves the right to display such work in Developer's promotional materials.” If you want to retain ownership of your work and grant your client a right to use your original work, then you are granting your client a license. Your license clause should state the length of time that the client can use your work and the specific purpose(s) for which it can be used. Will your client be allowed to modify your work? If so, then you should state this. If this is a more complex arrangement wherein you will create some original work and your client will also create some original work and that work will be incorporated into your work, then try your best to be as specific as possible about ownership interests, permitted uses, and permitted changes by both sides. Intellectual property can become a somewhat complex area, so it may be wise to contact counsel for arrangements that are not straightforward in order to prevent future issues from arising. 

There is no such thing as a perfect contract; however, these basics should go a long way towards protecting you from unanticipated risks. 

About the Author

Zehra Mahid

I am the owner of the Mahid Law Firm, a privacy and cybersecurity law firm. I graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 2002. I began my legal career with the American Bar Association in Washington DC. I then went on to spend the majority of my legal career working for Humana I...

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