Why We Re-Wrote Our Terms and Conditions Without a Lawyer

Written by Tom Greenwood - October 18, 2016

When we started our business back in 2007, we knew that we needed terms and conditions of service to protect us and our clients against any misunderstandings. We started off with a template that we bought online and didn’t give it too much thought. It was a necessary practicality.

A few years later, we got a lawyer to review and update these terms and conditions specifically for our business. The truth is, they didn’t really interest us. Our (somewhat naive) disinterest meant that we were more than happy to simply trust the professional judgement of the lawyer to give us what we needed.

It’s All in the Detail

Over the years, there have been several times when our clients have asked us to amend specific details to meet their requirements and we’ve been happy to do so. It wasn’t until 2015, when we lost a client because of our service terms and conditions, that we realised we ought to take a closer look at the detail.

A new client had agreed to go ahead with a project and was excited to get started. The only thing remaining was for him to review and approve our terms and conditions. After reading them, the client was furious. He said that he had chosen to hire us because we were an honest and trustworthy team that had his best interests at heart. Our terms and conditions, however, suggested the opposite. They were completely one-sided.

The client backed out of the project. I took the feedback on board and reviewed our terms and conditions myself, this time taking a much more vested interest in the detail. On reflection I couldn’t disagree, they were one-sided. They had been designed by our lawyer to protect us as an agency. They were written with no consideration for our clients, and the language used was the sort of classic legal jargon that intimidates many people.

That evening, I set about re-writing our service terms and conditions from scratch. My objective was to create a set of conditions that clearly established the basis for a positive working relationship, facilitating successful collaboration and protecting both parties from any misunderstanding.

“The best terms and conditions I have ever seen”

When the client logged into his email the next morning, he had the new terms and conditions waiting in his inbox and they were exactly what he had wanted to see the first time around. He was so impressed to see that we actually did care, that he went ahead with the project.

This more personal approach gave both us and our client an agreement that we felt comfortable with, completely cutting any legal professionals out of the process. Yes, we could be exposing ourselves to considerable legal risk but we did our research and decided that this was a risk we were prepared to take. Our client relationships are based on trust and respect so if we ever need a lawyer to define detailed terms to protect us, then it would suggest that we’re doing something wrong.

We decided to stick with our own terms and conditions and after a year, I can honestly say that it was the right decision. I recently had an email from one of our contacts at UNICEF HQ in New York when agreeing to a new project, saying,

“These are the best terms and conditions I have ever seen.”

We will continue to review and update our terms and conditions and of course we’re always open to suggestions. Our approach has proven the point we believe, that the primary objective of service terms and conditions should be to establish a clear and fair working relationship between two parties, not to win the upper hand in a court case that will hopefully never happen.

You can read our current T&Cs here and, in the spirit of being as open as our favourite open source CMS, we’re happy to share! If you like our approach, please feel free to copy and modify these for your own business.

What do you think? Would you consider writing your own T&Cs or would this be too much of a risk for your business? Do share your thoughts in the comments below!