Contracts: The Hidden/Overlooked Master Agreement

I have had more people come to me, explain a situation, and then ask me if they have to perform a certain task as part of some agreement or argue that they didn’t intend to be bound by the agreement.  My response:  Do you have a contract and what does it say?  It sounds pretty cut and dry, but for some, this is a real struggle and often times people will gloss over the agreement, and sign it, without really paying attention to the terms.  If this is you, don’t feel bad, you are not alone.  Countless times I have had clients bring me a Scope of Work or Purchase Order and tell me “this is the agreement” to which I ask, “Where is the rest of it?”  You can imagine people’s confusion when I ask this question, especially when they think THAT is all there is.  Unless you are dealing with someone that doesn’t understand contracting, chances are, there is more…you just may have overlooked it.

MASTER AGREEMENT:  A Master Agreement is the main portion of the Agreement that often outlines what some all the “boilerplate terms.”  Most people overlook this section and don’t negotiate the terms.  However, you should not overlook the “boilerplate terms” because they can be very important.  The “boilerplate terms” often outline payment terms, duration of agreement and renewals (like automatic ones), warranties, choice of law/jurisdiction, dispute resolution, damages for failure to adhere to the contract, intellectual property rights, etc.  A person’s failure to overlook these types of terms can be detrimental if not carefully reviewed and considered.  If you are curious about what kinds of issues can be present in “boiler plate” contract language, you can read my prior blog post Contract Terms: The Boilerplate Language IS Important.

ORDER FORM:  The Order Form is typically the portion of the agreement that outlines the client/customer specific information which are typically negotiated between the parties. This is typically why it receives the most attention.  These documents typically incorporate by reference the Master Agreement (which might be provided as a simply link to a URL online).

  • PURCHASE ORDER:  A Purchase Order (“PO”) is commonly used where the Master Agreement contemplates a purchase/sale of goods.  This will typically outline the types, quantities and agreed upon prices for products and/or services that may be associated, payment method and scheduling for the same and method of shipping, and includes any special requirements or other miscellaneous that the Master Agreement may not contemplate or you otherwise negotiate for (such as a change of a term under the Master Agreement).
  • STATEMENT OF WORK:  Statement of Work (“SOW”) is commonly where the Master Agreement contemplates services to be provided.  This will typically define the scope of the activities to be completed, the location of the work to be performed, period of performance, itemize deliverables and what timeline exists in connection with those deliverables, pricing, payment method and schedule for the same, any standard regulatory or governance terms and conditions, and includes any special requirements or other miscellaneous that the Master Agreement may not contemplate or you otherwise negotiate for (such as a change of a term under the Master Agreement).

Unless you are a contracts attorney who loves the fine print (and maybe we don’t even really love the fine print but at least we can understand it) you may be tempted to only focus your attention on the Order Form document, however, as discussed it is incredibly important that you read through all of the terms of any Master Agreement in connection with any Order Form to make sure you don’t get caught off-guard.  It’s always good practice to inquire about a Master Agreement when presented with nothing more than a Order Form…and keep the two documents together.  Don’t just rely on the information you can read in a URL link because you never know when the Master Agreement at that URL will change.  It’s better to trust your own records than to rely on someone else!

If you are unclear as to whether or not the boilerplate language is appropriate for your situation, and you want to work through the issues, you are encouraged to speak with a Contract Attorney in your area who can assist you.  Beebe Law, PLLC is an Arizona based law firm representing clients in the state of Arizona.

 

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