I’ve interacted with plenty of corporate legal departments throughout my career, and I’ll admit it: reviewing legalese is not something I look forward to doing. The truth is, most meeting pros feel the same way, invariably referring to the legal review process as a “necessary evil” (akin to, say, a root canal).
But evil or not (and like it or not, especially here in the U.S.—one of the most litigious countries in the world), ensuring that appropriate legal language coverage and insurance are in place for events is a necessity—and it’s your job. There’s a tendency to relegate anything legal to your corporate legal department, but beware. I know a professional who lost her job when a contractual legal dispute came up and she threw her legal counsel under the bus. Long, ugly story, but, in short, she lost her position because the company determined that she, as the subject-matter expert, should have been more proactive in guiding the lawyers to review specific areas of the agreement that were problematic.
The moral of this story is, don’t get a false sense of security when you flip your agreements over to legal. The planner or category owner(s) also share in the responsibility. (In case you’re wondering the root cause for the termination, it was over copyright infringement!)
Here are some things you can do to make the necessary legal review of your meeting agreements less painful:
Look for the exceptions and exclusions in agreements. These are the most important gaps you and your company will need to address to protect the interests of the company. Once you get these gaps addressed, escalated and resolved, then focus on the other areas of the agreement that could use stronger language and coverage protections.
Gather all your standard agreements (i.e. venue terms and conditions, speaker agreements, music copyright permissions, etc.) and have these reviewed and standardized by your corporate legal group. Another tip: Just because you do it once doesn’t mean you’re done. Laws change, so get these standard agreements blessed annually.
Always use these standardized agreements and forms. Every time these standardized forms are not used, you create an opportunity for litigation.
Educate your legal partners about your specialized areas of concern. I learned early in my corporate procurement career to befriend and work closely with my legal colleagues. I took the time to educate them on my category’s legal needs and concerns, and they in turn educated me about what I should be looking out for to protect our company. You build up trust and respect from the lawyers when you make the time to understand their roles and responsibilities, and you educate them on yours.
Know the corporate legal parameters you must work within. Ask upfront what terms and conditions are flexible for negotiation and which ones are absolute deal breakers with zero flexibility. Working within these parameters will continue to build trust and integrity with your legal group and will expedite the legal review process. I once had a corporate lawyer tell me that whenever the lawyers in his group saw my name associated with legal documents, they skimmed and approved quickly because they trusted that I had reviewed and negotiated the agreement to company standards and guidelines. Helpful hint: Get trained on your company’s legal position on “Limitation of Liability” and “Termination for Convenience.” These two clauses always invoke a challenge between parties because each side wants to optimize and limit their exposure.
Reviewing legal terms and conditions doesn’t have to be laborious and dread-invoking; there are a lot of things you can do to minimize and normalize the experience. As an added benefit, you will learn invaluable lessons about the many protections that a better understanding of legal language can provide—not just for your professional life, but in your personal life as well. Through the years, I’ve learned that legal reviews are not a necessary evil; they provide peace of mind. Stop glazing over and start optimizing the experience.