Design Your Client Agreement as a
Legal and Marketing Document
by Trey Ryder
Contracts have different effects on prospects. The more familiar people are
with lawyers, the less intimidated they may be by your agreement. The less familiar
they are with lawyers and retention agreements, the more your contract may give
Don’t underestimate the importance of your agreement as both a legal document
and a marketing document. Because if prospects aren’t comfortable with it, they
may not sign it -- and all your prior marketing efforts have been for naught.
You want prospects to perceive your agreement as the logical next step in the
process, not as a cement wall that stops them in their tracks.
Regardless of whether you use a contract, letter of understanding, or engagement
letter, make sure its quality is equal to your best work. Because, often, your
agreement is the first example of your work that your prospect sees.
MAKE SURE YOUR CLIENT AGREEMENT IS...
-- Easy to understand. When prospects don’t understand what they’re reading,
their skepticism increases. You enjoy a much higher level of credibility when
prospects clearly understand what you ask them to sign. Include legal terms
when you must, but also help your prospect by defining those terms in plain
English. Certainly, your agreement must be legally sufficient, but be careful
not to go overboard with minute details unless you have a compelling reason
for doing so.
-- Easy to read. Don’t use small print because it creates the impression
that you’re hiding something. Prospects feel more comfortable when the print
is large and fonts are easy to read. A one-page agreement of fine print arouses
much more suspicion than a three-page agreement where the type is big and easy
-- Crisp and clean. If you have a sharp, clean agreement, prospects expect
the work you do on their behalf will also be sharp and clean. A smudged agreement
or a poor photocopy reflects poorly on you. Print a new, clean laser copy for
each client. To make the agreement appear more personal, type the client’s name
and address into each agreement, rather than just filling in the blanks.
-- Appealing to the eye. Take special care to make your agreement pleasing
to the eye. Leave adequate margins around the page. Insert white space between
paragraphs. Keep paragraphs relatively short. If a paragraph is over 6 lines
or so in length, divide it into two paragraphs because short paragraphs are
more inviting than long paragraphs.
YOUR AGREEMENT’s CONTENT
-- Word your agreement so its tone is consistent with the tone you use in
conversation. A client once told me my agreement “didn’t sound like me”.
That was the first time I realized that agreements could and should sound like
the person they represent.
-- When possible, describe negatives in a positive light. If your agreement
contains things your prospect might perceive in a negative way, explain why
you include those terms. For example, in my engagement letter, I specify that
I do not provide certain routine secretarial services. First, I explain this
is done for greater efficiency. Second, I offer to help my clients find someone
to perform these functions, if they don’t want to handle this work in house.
And third, I offer the secretarial services I use at cost so they can use the
same people I have come to depend on, if they wish.
-- Avoid complex agreements for simple matters, when possible. Several years
ago I hired an out-of-state lawyer. During the hiring process, I interviewed
several lawyers over the telephone. One lawyer sent me a 12-page double-spaced
agreement. My immediate conclusion was that this lawyer was my adversary rather
than my ally. Another lawyer I spoke with -- and the one I hired -- said he
would draft a brief letter of understanding. In two paragraphs, he said everything
that needed to be said. I signed and returned the letter with my check. And
he did an excellent job.
-- Proofread every word from beginning to end. I’ve seen many lawyers’ agreements
with words left out, misspellings, and so on. Remember: Your agreement should
represent your best work. A mistake in your contract reflects poorly on you.
Make sure you’re proud of your agreement. Look it over carefully several times.
WHEN REFERRING TO YOUR CONTRACT...
-- Call it an agreement. The word agreement emphasizes that your contract
reflects how you and your client have agreed to work together and what both
of you will do.
-- Point out that you wrote the agreement in plain English so your prospect
will understand every word.
-- Downplay your agreement’s complexity. Describe your agreement as simple
so you start shaping your prospect’s perception even before he sees it.
-- Call it your standard form agreement, implying that everyone routinely
signs it without objection, almost as a formality.
-- If you offer an escape clause, emphasize how easily your prospect can
cancel the agreement. Your prospect feels more at ease when he knows how to
get out from under your contract.
When you use proven marketing principles to create your client agreement,
you help turn a potential obstacle into a powerful, persuasive marketing piece.
Plus, when your prospect reviews an agreement that’s easy to read and understand,
his fears melt away and your credibility soars.
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