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Contracts represent that area of law where the parties mutually accept benefits and fulfill obligations. Yet, the area of contract law is often fraught with many issues, uncertainty and controversies that can end up in trial.
Contracts encompass a wide array of subject matter and range from average, everyday sales and purchases to those with complicated issues and multiple parties. Below is just a sample of them.
Employment contracts set the pay, define job duties and expectations and set the terms of the employer-employee relationship. As a general rule, employees work on an at-will basis . This means that the employer can fire employees for a good reason, bad reason or no reason, so long as that reason does not violate employment discrimination laws or other established public policy.
Sometimes, employment contracts will contain a non-competition clause. This prevents the employee from working for competitors of the company in a given geographic area for a certain period of time. You may need an attorney experienced with these contracts to advise you if the length of time or geographic reach is unreasonable in that it keeps you from working in your field.
Lawyers in the contract arena also handle both commercial and residential real estate transactions. Under the “Statute of Frauds,” a contract to convey or acquire land, buildings or some interest in them must be reduced to writing and must have the parties signatures. Other requirements include a sufficient identification or description of the property involved. These contracts involve many details that call for careful thought and wording.
Other types of contracts include contracts with government entities, the sale of medical practices or other businesses, and deals in the entertainment sector. Sales of merchandise, arrangements that create security agreements and leases of cars or other personal property come within the gambit of the Uniform Commercial Code. This set of statutes control, among other things, what contracts must be in writing, the rights of buyers, sellers and secured parties; and when a secured party may repossess goods. In the commercial or financial contract arena also lie loans, promissory notes and mortgages.
Whether you’re an employee, small business owner, a corporate entity, or an individual buyer or seller, a law firm that practices contract law renders generally two types of services.
Some contract lawyers prepare documents for transactions. These professionals draft contracts tailored to an individual or specific transaction or standard form contracts. The former often arises where the subject matter has uniqueness, such as real estate or the sale of a business. Parties who lend or sell to consumers or rent residential property often opt for a standard contract to use.
Drafting certain contracts requires that the lawyer grasp and navigate state and federal laws that require the disclosure of certain information to consumers. For instance, consumer loan contracts must state the total amounts of payments, the total finance charge and whether the borrower must pay a penalty for paying off the loan before it matures.
With the help of a lawyer looking for potential problems in a proposed contract, you can decide whether to enter into the deal or how to craft it to your benefit. For auto dealers, disclaimers of vehicle warranties must stand out conspicuously through bold, all-caps and larger font sizes. Many states outlaw the use of “confession of judgment” clauses, which otherwise would allow lenders or other parties to get a judgment against the party in default without a typical lawsuit or court proceeding — and without prior notice of the judgment.
Aside from including required provisions or avoiding unenforceable ones, the lawyer drafting a contract must anticipate disagreements and ensure as much clarity as possible. Thus, a great job by the lawyer means asking for as many details about the things to which the parties agree and the things to which they don’t. A legal professional can interpret ambiguous agreements drafted solely by one side. Finally, a local contract attorney can participate in negotiations and ultimately include provisions that both parties agree upon.
A breach of contract or other contract disputes may lead to lawsuits, even in the best drafted contracts. This means your online search should include a litigation lawyer as well.
A lawsuit involves the filing of a complaint. The party being sued, the defendant, gets a certain number of days after being served with the complaint to answer it. If you’re a defendant, consulting with a contract attorney can help you present reasons why you haven’t breached the contract or that your breach should be excused. In a lawsuit over not buying or paying for goods, you can defend on the ground that what you bought is broken and defective.
Other defenses include, but may not be limited to, that you paid all that is owed, the plaintiff compromised by accepting less than what is owed, the plaintiff waited too long to file the lawsuit (otherwise known as statute of limitations) and that the plaintiff committed fraud. Depending upon the facts, you may also have a counterclaim, that is you can sue the party that is suing you.
If you decide to start a lawsuit, your contract may restrict your right to go to court and have your case heard by a judge or jury. State and federal laws allow parties to have claims settled in arbitration. In such proceedings, a neutral third-party who is not a judge hears the evidence and makes the ruling. The parties do not get a jury and procedures such as discovery are more limited. The streamlined process of arbitration may make it cost less than a regular trial.
Although the law encourages litigation to occur outside of court, some arbitration provisions may not withstand judicial scrutiny. Such invalid provisions include those where the fees for arbitration far exceed the amount in dispute or where a party must travel a significant distance, such as out of state, to attend an arbitration hearing.
In preparing the case, your lawyer will gather evidence. If your contract covers fairly technical subjects, your attorney may have to hire experts who can help prove or defeat a breach of contract claim.
Your search for an experienced lawyer specializing or concentrating in contracts can start with an online search. These online services will list attorneys nearest where you live.
It’s important not to rush through the process of finding legal representation. A quick approach to finding a lawyer may save time, but it can keep you from getting the best one for your situation. When you find a website with lawyers near you, take time to carefully examine the qualifications of the lawyer. It’s a good idea to read their ratings and reviews, as it will reveal if the lawyer is recommended by others. Ask questions such as whether the law firm specializes in contract matters and about the types of clients represented by the law firm. If you are buying a home for your personal use, you likely don’t want to contact a lawyer who represents banks or sellers.
A local lawyer can let you know they offer a free consultation, the cost to prepare or review a contract, how much it takes in time and money to try a lawsuit, and your rights and your obligations under the contract. You’ll find advice on whether pursuing a particular contract or litigation proves affordable to you. As with other business transactions, you might want to compare hourly fees and flat rates.
If you’re in a dispute or trying to avoid one, choosing an experienced, top rated contract attorney can spell the difference between a great transaction or serious problems. Should difficulties arise, a lawyer can guide you through a lawsuit towards a satisfactory resolution. To find experienced legal counsel in your area, give us a call today.