As I have been getting more work, I have been thinking more about contracts, and whether I need them, and if so how elaborate they need be. For most things, I prefer to work without them, and my individual projects are small enough that it seems to work out. Here is what I know about contracts:

1. They are not self enforcing.

2. They are only as valid as the good faith efforts on the part of all parties to them.

3. If a contract is broken, you had better be prepared to shell out a lot in legal fees and stress or to just let it go.

Noting the above, I have decided for now not to have a contract for any project worth under $10,000. Life is too short and I know from past experience how shitty an experience it is to take someone to court. The person harmed most is yourself. Better to let anything under that amount just go, it isn’t worth the hassle. That isn’t to say that there aren’t scope of work documents and specs to lay out exactly what I will and won’t do for a fee. But outside of those, I prefer to work in a trusting environment and get burned a couple of times rather than to start from the assumption that everyone is out to screw me (in the bad way, that is). There may come a time where I will ask for money upfront or other such things to protect myself. And there may come a time that I will send reams of legalese to a client. But I hope that time doesn’t come soon.


  1. Your Lawyer Cousin says:

    The point of having a contract is not just to be able to drag someone into court when they don’t pay you, but also to protect yourself in the event that someone tries to drag YOU into court for not doing the work they say you were supposed to do. I would imagine that being sued is even less fun than suing someone. In California, any amount in controversy under $5000 is litigated in small claims court, where you’re not even allowed to have a lawyer. If I were you, I’d have a contract for any work above that amount, at a bare minimum. Lawyers are required to have a written fee contract anytime we charge over $1000.00. Seems the safer bet to me.

    Also, in the event that someone does stiff you, the fact that you can wave a signed contract in their face can sometimes resolve the matter without you having to take them to court.

  2. Stephen says:

    Glad to know my cousin reads my blog. :) I have documents (as I state above) that describe what work I have agreed to, but they are simple and in email with signoffs. Anything more complicated than that for those amounts simply isn’t worth it.

  3. Kelly says:

    Contracts are important. Listen to the lawyers. God knows you have plenty to choose from. Have one draft a boiler-plate contract that you can customize.

  4. Stephen says:

    Sorry to break it to you, but contracts are fairly meaningless in and of themselves. This I know from experience. They are only as good as the goodwill behind them. And there are all types of business arrangements that are effectively contractual, whether they are word of mouth, a simple email, or what have you. Pretending that something drafted from a lawyer is more valuable in this context (under 10k) is simply a conceit of lawyers. And often times when lawyers get involved there is acrimony from the get go where there need be none. Once again: contracts are as valuable as the good will of the participants. Without that goodwill, you sure as hell better have the money and inclination to enforce your contract in court. With that goodwill, you most often don’t need anything other than a simple understanding, and certainly not for the tiny amounts we are talking about here.

  5. amanda says:

    damn lawyers