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Did Your Lawyer Sell You an Old Shoe?

Old Shoes
Did you just pay a lawyer to draft you a contract? Where did it come from? Historically, lawyers have always used old templates, updated and customized to address your specific transaction. Because clients never had access to the templates, you never knew how much customization your lawyer actually did. In large part, that is still true today.

Google Your Shoes
In the field of information technology (IT) related contracts (software licensing, terms of use, privacy policies) however, clients now have some ability to track down the provenance of their expensive compact. An interesting exercise you might try with your own IT or software contracts is to look over the contract for a unique string of words. Put those words in quotes and search them on Google. In who else’s contracts do these words appear?

Whose Shoes are These?
Just because your contract language appears somewhere else does not necessarily mean there is a problem. Someone could have stolen the contracts from your website or from another of your attorney’s clients.

Another explanation might be that their attorney may be using the same form book as your attorney. Take a closer look. Are the contracts nearly identical or are only a few phrases the same? Depending upon the type of contracts at issue, the language may be very similar. Sometimes there are only so many ways to skin a cat.

Knock-off Nike’s
While similar language, and even very similar contracts, might be justified in many circumstances, you should not be paying premium rates for online forms you could have cut and pasted for much less (I know my kid only charges $120/hr for cutting and pasting).

Granted there is some truth to the joke about the plumber charging $1 to hit the pipe and $99 to know where to hit it. Sometimes even small changes can take an experienced cyberlaw attorney considerable time to draft, especially if the differences between your contract and the one you found online relate to complex or unique aspects of your business.

Even in this case, there should at least be some marks where the plumber hit it.

Old or New Shoes
Sometimes simple language at a reasonable price may be sufficient to do the job.

Other times you need the magic only an expert scrivener can provide. What you do not need is to be paying Prada prices for an ill-fitting pair of used sneakers.

If you have questions about your contract that shows up on your competitor’s feet, talk to your lawyer about it. More than likely, he or she will be able to explain the unique or complex aspects of your situation that merited the time behind the invoice you received.

If they cannot, or if it obvious that your contract was merely lifted in its entirety directly off of the Internet, it might be time to consider putting your shoes to use.

Brett Trout

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