Drafting legal contracts is a process that just about every business will have to go through at some point. With so many specific legal nuances that need to be considered, it’s no surprise that even seasoned professionals can make mistakes. Unfortunately, these mistakes may render a contract unenforceable or lead to lengthy disputes in the future. Let’s explore some common errors made during contract drafting and discuss how you can avoid these pitfalls.


1. Vague and Ambiguous Terms

Mistake: One of the most common errors is the use of vague or ambiguous language that can be interpreted in multiple ways. This can easily lead to misunderstandings and disputes between the parties involved.  

How to Avoid It: Be precise and clear in your wording throughout the contract. Define key terms and make sure the contract’s language is straightforward. Avoid jargon and technical terms unless they are clearly explained. For example, instead of saying "reasonable efforts," specify exactly what actions are expected.


2. Incomplete Contracts

Mistake: Leaving out essential terms or clauses can leave a contract incomplete and unenforceable. Important elements like payment terms, deadlines and responsibilities must be included.

How to Avoid It: Use a checklist to ensure all critical components are covered. Clearly outline the obligations of each party, expected timelines and any contingencies. Review sample contracts or seek professional legal assistance to ensure nothing is omitted.


3. Lack of Formalities

Mistake: Failing to comply with the required formalities can invalidate a contract. For example, certain contracts in South Africa, such as property sales, must be in writing and signed by the parties involved.

How to Avoid It: Ensure that the contract meets all legal formalities. For written contracts, ensure that all parties sign and date the document. Use witnesses if required, and for electronic contracts, ensure compliance with the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act.


4. Ignoring Statutory Requirements

Mistake: Overlooking specific statutory requirements that govern certain types of contracts, such as those regulated by the Consumer Protection Act or the National Credit Act.

How to Avoid It:  Firstly, you should familiarise yourself with the relevant laws and regulations. Make sure that your contracts comply with these statutory requirements if they apply. Due to its complex nature, consulting with a legal professional is advised to help you meet these requirements.



5. Not Including Dispute Resolution Clauses

Mistake: Failing to include a dispute resolution clause can lead to costly and lengthy court battles if disagreements arise.

How to Avoid It: Always include a dispute resolution clause in your contracts. Specify methods such as mediation, arbitration or negotiation as the first steps before litigation. This can save time and resources if something goes wrong.


6. Overly Complex Language

Mistake: Using overly complex or legalistic language might seem like the right way to draft a contract. In truth, this can make the contract difficult to understand, increasing the risk of misinterpretation.

How to Avoid It: Aim for simplicity and clarity throughout the contract. Write in simple language that can be easily understood by all parties. If complex legal terms are necessary, be sure to provide clear definitions within the contract.


7. Failing to Update Contracts

Mistake: Using outdated contracts or contract templates that do not reflect current laws or business practices can lead to enforceability issues.

How to Avoid It: Regularly review and update your contracts to ensure they comply with the latest legal standards. Try to stay informed about legal developments that may affect your industry, so you can adjust your contracts accordingly.


8. Ignoring Local Legal Context

Mistake: Not considering the local legal context and specific requirements of a certain region can lead to non-compliance and invalid contracts.

How to Avoid It: Understand the local legal environment and tailor your contracts to meet the legal standards of the region you operate in. This includes considering local business practices, customs and the statutory requirements of different countries.


9. Failing to Seek Legal Advice

Mistake: Trying to draft complex contracts without legal assistance can lead to mistakes and legal vulnerabilities.

How to Avoid It: For complicated or high-stakes contracts, always seek professional legal advice. An experienced attorney can help you identify potential pitfalls and know exactly what goes into drafting legal contracts that are legally sound.


10. Inadequate Consideration of Confidentiality

Mistake: Overlooking the importance of confidentiality clauses can lead to sensitive information being exposed.

How to Avoid It: Include comprehensive confidentiality clauses in your legal contracts to protect sensitive business information. Specify what exactly constitutes confidential information and outline the commitments of the parties to protect this information.


Drafting legal contracts requires careful attention to detail and a thorough understanding of local laws and business practices. Contact Cawood Attorneys if you need assistance drafting well-structured contracts that can save you from potential disputes, protect your interests, and promote smooth business operations. Seeking legal advice is always a wise step to guarantee your contracts are watertight and serve their intended purpose.

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