Question: My name is Edward, a business owner in Nairobi. Thank you for the tips you offer in this column. I want to get my business right but I really wonder why do I need a lawyer to help me draft documents? I know many free online resources that I can use. ( I don’t mean to be rude but honestly, I do not see the value of hiring an expensive lawyer when I can do it myself.
Dear Edward, no you do not sound rude at all, it is a common question, so much so that a few months ago I was invited for a talk to demystify legal services. I was also asked why lawyers are so expensive and so on. I am therefore glad you asked and hope that by the end of this read, you will be able to understand the importance of having a lawyer.
I know there are some websites that provide legal resources and what they refer to as templates for businesses to use. First, are you sure they are free? Even if they were free here is why I would discourage that practice and encourage you to get a lawyer. I will use an actual case example I encountered.
Mercy, a Kenyan entrepreneur wanted to hire a tech developer to develop an app. She knew that she needed a contract but decided she would just use an online template, after all why waste money on expensive lawyers, right?
She came across a website that was offering free templates and downloaded one that was titled “Internet Service Provider Agreement”. She did not understand a thing but was happy that all she was required to do is insert their names and contract price!
Contract ready and signed in five minutes!
She paid the full amount to the developer. Thereafter the so called developer never delivered and stopped taking her calls. She decided to sue him, after all she had a signed contract!
She took her agreement to a lawyer. Let me just put it as politely as I can, the agreement she entered into was a lame-duck.
Firstly, it was the wrong type of agreement (why sign an internet service agreement for app development, who does that?)
Secondly the law of Texas was stamped all over the agreement. It provided that in the event of a dispute the Texas law courts would handle the dispute and the dispute would be decided according to American law. The lawyer just turned her away and told her the only remedy she had was pursuing a criminal charge with police officers.
I believe that had Mercy sought proper legal advice she would have been guided on the best type of agreement to use. Furthermore, the agreement would be adherent to Kenyan law.
Most of the free online templates are made by non-Kenyan companies and therefore they are not compliant to Kenyan law. In some cases, you are better off having no agreement at all than entering into a non-suitable template agreement. Some of the free online agreements are actually prejudicial to your interests, you are better off without them.
I wish you knew how much work goes into producing an effective agreement.
So please save yourself some stress and hustle, spend some money on a good lawyer. As Alex Flinn, an author said, “ I was a lawyer for 10 years and this helped me see things from different angles!”
The writer is the founder of C Mputhia Advocates; [email protected]