Today's brief post is about a topic that we consider vital to your success: documents that require your signature, specifically, documents that either an end client or a translation/interpreting agency sends you before you have an agreement and before services are rendered. Remember that we are not attorneys, although one of us is married to one. The following is not legal advice, but rather our advice on what we have learned in the T&I trenches. Here it is, in easy-to-read bullet format.
- Read everything. Even if the client insists that you need to sign this right now or the world will come to and end (yes, this is the sense of urgency that's sometimes communicated to the translator or interpreter), take your time to read everything. Also be sure that you understand what you are reading. If you don't, consider asking.
- If you don't agree with something on the document, be it a confidentiality agreement, a purchase order, or a non-compete agreement, don't sign it. These documents can be considered drafts of contracts, and they are not court orders with which you need to comply. We occasionally get non-compete clauses that are so completely egregious that we simply can't agree to them. So we go into the document, delete/amend the portions we don't like and send it back to the client for their review. Initially, we used to be a bit nervous about this, because just like many service providers, we want to make everything easy for the client. That said, we also have to protect our business interests, and sometimes that's a thin line. However, pretty much all of the time, the client has agreed to our changes and we've signed the redacted version of the document.
- Even if the client claims that this "is just completely standard," it still has to be a standard that works for both parties. A contract is an agreement between two parties, and if you don't agree, say so. Don't be afraid of potentially losing a client. If the client isn't willing to respect your business interests, then perhaps this is not a good basis for a work relationship. We assure you that there will be other, better clients. We recently turned down a hugely lucrative contract with a tech giant because their terms were so outrageous (especially their terms in case of any errors and omissions) that our entire business would have been at risk. The client said that the contract was just a formality, but after having two attorneys review the terms, we decided to decline. It was a tough decision, but ultimately we thought it was the right one.
- One of us (Judy) spends a lot of time in legal proceedings as a court interpreter, and it's never fun to go to court if it's about you. Save yourself the trouble of having to litigate anything and negotiate everything before you sign. Once your signature is on the document, it's official, so think twice before you sign.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive and is only meant as initial food for thought. What about you, dear colleagues? Do you have any other advice on handling this issue? We'd love to hear from you.