A recent Missouri court case has prompted me to revisit attorneys’ fees provisions in contracts I draft and negotiate. The case, Midland Property Partners, LLC v. Watkins, doesn’t break any new ground, but it reminded me how important the language can be.
Even before reading Midland Property, I’d had attorneys’ fees provisions on my mind. Under the “American Rule,” which is followed by courts in Missouri and most of the rest of the U.S., the parties to breach of contract suits have to pay their own attorneys’ fees — even when they win the case. As a practical matter, this means that it’s often uneconomical for a party to enforce its contract because it’ll still have to foot the bill for its lawyers. I’ve advised a number of clients who’ve had to make the decision to sue or not to sue, and the inability to recover enforcement costs really affects the calculus. [click to continue…]
It’s important not to lose control when you’re negotiating a contract. I’m not talking about losing your cool, but staying on top of contract versions. Here’s an example from my professional youth:
I was negotiating a contract for a large company during my first or second year of practice. There was a lot of back and forth between the lawyer on the other side and me with contract drafts being sent both ways over a period of weeks. Suddenly, I realized that I’d completely lost track of which draft was current and that I’d made revisions to the wrong draft some point along the way, creating a confusing mash-up of old, intermediate, and new contract language. I had to call opposing counsel for help — a bit embarrassing, to be sure.
Documents, documents, everywhere
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I uploaded a simple asset purchase agreement to Docracy and thought I’d share it here. I drafted it with very small businesses in mind.
It’s structured as a bill of sale and assumption agreement to make it easy for do-it-yourselfers to use (in many cases there’ll be no need for a separate bill of sale, it doesn’t require closing certificates, and it’s otherwise largely a fill-in-the-blank document). Although it’s always best to have a professional help with important legal issues, most people do these deals without a safety net, so it makes sense to provide documents that’ll increase their chances of documenting their deals adequately.
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