What’s All the Chatter About Free Contracts?

Gee, did I miss the announcement that it was “Free Contracts Week” on the blawgosphere?

First there was this article on Tech Crunch by @ddoktori. That spawned this post by @carolynelefant on myShingle, this post on Above the Law by @josephpatrice, and this post on Forbes by @basharubin.

I’ll add my six cents’ worth about making form contracts or, even better, document-assembly templates of contracts available for free online, although I’m not sure I have anything novel to say.

Free Makes Some Sense. The point behind Free is that it makes no sense for anyone to have to devote significant resources to endlessly recreating the same kinds of basic contracts.

Free Isn’t Great. Let’s not have any illusions about the quality of Free. In a world where leading law firms and global companies churn out contracts that should cause them embarrassment, it should come as no surprise that what you can get for free mostly ranges from crappy to not particularly great. I’ve written lots of posts about different offerings; you’re welcome to search for them on this blog. But hey, there’s one resource that’s free and great—my document-assembly template for creating a confidentiality agreement (here). But it’s only for people who are serious about their confidentiality agreements.

Free Doesn’t Do Much. As plenty of people have already observed, an unsophisticated nonlawyer with some free contracts isn’t going to get very far, and in fact might do themselves some mischief.

Free Isn’t Likely to Be a Game-Changer. Free as a lead generator? Big deal. Free to serve the “tiny law” market? Sure, but it doesn’t excite me. You know what would get me excited? Ambitious document-assembly initiatives, such as one that would allow BigLaw and its clients to commoditize the drafting of M&A contracts, or one that would allow state procurement agencies to create great first drafts of purchasing contracts. No one is threatened by what Free currently has to offer, and that’s why it isn’t going to amount to much.

Let’s Not Make a Fetish of Free. If you want everything for free, you’re not going to get much. Quality costs something.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.