The Handshake vs. the Written Contract

I may be a bit younger in years, but I can still recall when a “handshake and a promise” deal actually meant something. Perhaps some of my confidence in another’s word stems from my small-town Mississippi roots. Nonetheless, in today’s economy, your business will need a lot more than a handshake if you want to get paid. Luckily, only a few hours spent with a reputable attorney can present you with a sound contract based on solid terms and conditions, which will save you time, stress and money, should a client try and stiff you on down the line.


Without a mutually agreed upon legal contract in place, any terms agreed upon with a handshake are moot. Entering into a handshake agreement could put a business at risk for losing money not only in the original agreement but also in court fees for legal action against a deceitful client (unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and the like).


Since we’re not in 1950’s southern Mississippi, and few millennials even know the meaning of such hospitality in business transactions, a good rule of thumb for any business is to ditch the handshake and ask for a signature acknowledging an ironclad contract, complete with terms and conditions. Those terms and conditions should include the most basic items such as:

  • Compensation and payment terms
  • Changes/ additional services
  • Emergency services
  • Reimbursable expenses
  • Provisions of default
  • Dispute resolution
  • Governing law


Legal considerations, as stated above, are extremely important to help ensure appropriate compensation for hard work. Some businesses believe that something in writing, though not in legal contract form, is just as dependable. The reality of the situation is a lack of clearly stated legal terms and conditions could leave a business with a higher level of risk for a transaction.


While developing long-standing relationships with clients is important, don’t forget to protect yourself and your business in the process. Shake your client’s hand and exchange the promise to fulfill the contract, but also take a couple of hours with your attorney to put a “gentleman’s agreement” into writing. For the most part, your company’s terms and conditions can and should be standard with every contract, so this will not be an ongoing legal expense. Rather, it will ensure you peace of mind in knowing that should an agreement not go as planned, you have a contract to protect your business.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 at 12:29 pm. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.