Monday, July 19, 2010

Are Email Messages Enough???

Last week another writer and I were discussing the legalities of client agreements. We are located in different states – she’s on the west coast and I’m in the south east – so I know that in some cases state laws take precedence. She asked how I handle client agreements and I explained that I usually email the agreement and have the client sign it and fax or email it back. My writer friend explained that after 12 years of working as a freelance copywriter, she had loosened the reigns a bit relying mainly on email correspondence instead of submitting a formal document each time (like I do).

I know quite a few writers who rely on email messages only to cement project agreements with clients because there is an obvious communication trail they can refer to if things ever get too hairy. But is it really enough from a legal standpoint? My writer friend and I spent a good 30 minutes chewing this over. I kind of like the way she handles her email correspondence: she pastes the full agreement into an email and asks the client to simply respond that they agree with the terms. But near the end of our conversation we were both wondering, would it be enough?

My friend contacted a lawyer who stated that it should be okay. The lawyer informed her that although using her email method for securing client agreements “should” be “fine,” there is the possibility that if things ever went to court my writer friend “might” have difficulty proving that the client understood what they were signing. Was this typical lawyer-speak meant to scare her into setting up an appointment for a more in-depth (e.g. PAID) consultation? I don’t know. Maybe. But my writer friend felt a lot more confident about handling her agreements by email after their conversation - especially since she has never had a situation in 12 years where suing a client for non-payment was an issue.

What do you think? Do you submit formal contracts that require a client’s signature, or do you simply rely on email correspondence?


Lori said...

I've had larger publications send me emailed agreements that I simply respond to in order to accept. Maybe the age of electronic signatures has opened the door to the potential of written (not inked) agreements?

Kimberly Ben said...

I hope so, Lori. I like the way my friend pastes her agreement into the body of the email and simply has the client respond "yes" or "no" regarding their acceptance of the terms. It seems so much easier.

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