Using Web Tools For Creating and Managing Contracts

When doing business online it’s always safer to have your agreements in writing. Fortunately, there are now a variety of tools that allow us to draft, share and sign contracts online. Here’s a roundup of some of those tools, and some tips on using them.

Contract Templates and Wizards

The hardest part in getting contracts in place is the drafting of the agreement itself. Unless you already have a lawyer who has created your documents for you, finding the best template can take a lot of time and effort. No matter how good a contract template is, it’s rare to find one that perfectly suits your situation. The good news is that there are some useful resources that can do this for you at the fraction of a cost of hiring a lawyer. Do-it-yourself solutions such as FastDue and RocketLawyer are good places to start, and we’ve covered both of these in the past.
RocketLawyer has a collection of business legal forms ranging from consulting agreements to articles of incorporation. You fill out a simple questionnaire and a document is customized based on your answers. Other features include e-signature and the ability to collaborate on documents. Google Docs (s goog) users can also use free RocketLawyer templates, but you’ll have to customize them yourself. If you want to know more about RocketLawyer, start by reading Imran’s review.
FastDue also provides templates for contracts and agreements, although not as many as RocketLawyer. One advantage, though, is the variety of forms on offer, including past due notices, invoices, expense reports, and receipts. The forms also include interactive messaging, allowing your clients and colleagues to make comments directly on the document itself.  The free service offered is enough for a freelance contractor, but you can sign up for the premium service if you want something more robust.  Thursday covered FastDue’s services in a previous article if you want to learn more.

Sending and Signing

Once you have your contract ready, it’s just a matter of sending it and having it signed. Some contract creation wizards offer free e-signature functionality as part of the service, but there are plenty of other e-signature apps. Here are some of them:

  • EchoSign. There are two ways to sign a document via EchoSign. Users can simply type in their initials or, if they prefer an “old school” analog approach, they can print the document, sign it and fax it in. EchoSign can also integrate with Google Docs and Zoho Writer.
  • DocuSign. Just like EchoSign, DocuSign is a web based e-signature service. Additional features include CRM integration the ability to embed your signable documents within your web site. It also offers mobile signing if you want to use your cell phone or BlackBerry (s rimm).
  • E-lock. E-lock has signature solutions for both the web and your desktop. The desktop application integrates with MS Excel, MS Word (s msft), and Adobe Acrobat (s adbe).

For colleagues and clients who prefer a written signature rather than a digital one, you could send your contracts via online faxing solutions such as MyFax and eFax. To make the process easier, I just pull up one of my scanned signatures on file and paste it into the document. Then, I export the entire contract as a PDF and send it off as an e-fax, avoiding any printing on my end.
There are a couple of disadvantages to e-signing, however. Some people might not read their contracts thoroughly. To prevent this you should attach a note emphasizing the importance of reading the entire document or even discuss it on the phone paragraph by paragraph, if needed. Also, you need to make sure that e-signatures are legally valid in the states and countries where each signatory resides.
With all these available tools, we no longer have an excuse to take contracts for granted. Getting the right document and the necessary signatures is only a few clicks away.
How do you manage your contracts and other legal documents? What tools do you use?
Photo by stock.xchng user wagg66