Gone are the days of the “handshake deal.” Now, you’d better have a contract to back up your agreement if you expect to have any protection under the law if things go wrong. But negotiating a good contract is partly skill and partly art — and both take some time to develop.

Here are some tips that may help during your next contract negotiations:

  1. Start by listening. Don’t walk in to a meeting and hand someone a contract you’ve already prepared. It’s okay to have a rough draft, but use it as a starting point only.
  2. Don’t try for a one-sided contract. Getting an agreement that heavily favors your interests may appeal to your competitive nature — but a lopsided contract could eventually be useless if a court deems it to be unconscionable.
  3. Be courteous. Aggressive negotiation tactics are likely to backfire and alienate the other party. Even if you seal the deal, you may ruin your working relationship for the future.
  4. Don’t try to put too much in the contract. Identify your priorities and focus on those. If you try to stuff a commercial lease with every possible clause under the sun, you may make unexpected mistakes — and you’ll probably frustrate the other party.
  5. Don’t use boilerplate contracts. Times change. So do the laws. If you’re using a contract template from a decade ago or one you got from a website, there’s no guarantee that it complies with the current laws of your state.
  6. Identify the decision-makers. Don’t waste time in long negotiations with someone who can’t ultimately approve the deal. When it gets back to the decision-maker, you could end up having to start all over.

One of the best ways to protect your interests is to make certain that you have the right legal assistance, at the right time. Craft a long-term relationship with an attorney you trust to represent you.