Beware contracting via email

Posted: Wednesday, 18 May 2011 @ 11:25

The age of emails has blurred the boundaries of what is a contract and what is not. It’s very easy to fire off an email quickly, but do you realise that such an email has the same status as a proper legal contract?

Without expert legal input and advice on terms, businesses could be leaving themselves open to problems.

A response to an email outlining details of an agreement, and agreeing to undertake the work, is effectively a binding contract, but it is unlikely to be a ‘watertight contract’. It might not, for instance, set out payment terms or limit liabilities. Businesses which do not invest in the right legal advice could therefore be laying themselves open to unnecessary problems.

If you do not have a properly drawn up contract:

  • you may not have agreement over some fundamental points (which means that a judge might later have to decide what these points should have been – and you will be paying for the privilege!);
  • there will be uncertainty as to the basis on which the products or work are being supplied (and you can be certain that if a disagreement ever arises, the other party will have a different ‘recollection’ of what was agreed, meaning you have less chance of being paid and a higher chance of it all ending up in messy court proceedings);
  • everything implied by law will apply to your contract even if that’s not what you intended (did you really want Westminster or Brussels to decide what you have agreed to?);
  • you won’t have any limitations on your liability;
  • you won’t have any retention of title on any products you supply (so you have less chance of being paid);
  • you may find that your customer or supplier has introduced their own standard terms which are likely to be more to their benefit than yours.

It’s always advisable to draw up a proper contract to consider all of these points, and if you are presented with such a contract to get advice on whether your interests are really protected. It will save you a lot of hassle, time and money in the long term.

Sue Mann
Commercial Solicitor, Birmingham

Blog by Sue Mann
Sue is an experienced commercial solicitor based in Birmingham from where she helps businesses all over the country advising on, drafting, and reviewing business contracts and commercial agreements. View profile
Call Sue on +44 (0)121 246 4437 or by email
This blog is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to be a complete and authoritative statement of the law, and what we say might be out of date by the time you read it. You should always seek legal advice to confirm whether or how any information in this article applies to your particular situation. We offer a free telephone consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.

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