consultancy agreement
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This article is written by Jessica Kaur, a first-year student currently pursuing B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. This article delves into the essential elements and clauses of a Consultancy Agreement.

Introduction

Imagine you’re going about your day, enjoying a nice cup of tea while tucked in your bed, and then suddenly, you have a eureka moment and get a wonderful business idea.

The trouble is, you’re a Philosophy professor at a university, with no background in business management, finances, marketing, etc. What do you do?

You go to an expert in the field, of course. Such a person is called a consultant, because he or she advises us on a particular subject. A consultant sees the world from our point of view, understands our problems, and then provides us with adequate solutions. The person who consults them is called a client.

Like any other business transaction, the provision of consulting services also requires a contract or an agreement between the two parties. In this article, we shall understand what a consultancy agreement is, and examine the essential elements that a good consultancy agreement must have, in order to cater to the needs of both the consultant and the client.

What is a Consultancy Agreement?

Consultancy Agreement refers to a contract that defines the terms of service between a consultant and the client. It is drawn up when a consultant is called to provide services to an individual or a business organization. By clarifying all the agreed-upon demands of both parties to the transaction, it helps in protecting their interests and ensuring that the agreement is complied with.

Why do you need a Consultancy Agreement?

The question that might arise is, why do we even need a written agreement? Can’t both parties just discuss what they want from the deal, and be done with it?

Unfortunately, the simplicity of an oral agreement also brings with it certain problems. It does not suffice as proof of the transaction, and moreover, it may leave things uncertain. Having a written agreement that is signed by both parties means that they can protect their interests in case of non-payment, failure to deliver services, or problems that arise between the consultant and the client.

To understand this better, let’s have a look at the major benefits of a Consultancy Agreement, which are as follows:

  • Defines the scope of work: A Consultancy Agreement explains exactly what the consultant has been hired for and what services he is required to perform. This eliminates any confusion that might arise later in the transaction process. It also specifies the exact duration for which the services are hired.
  • Defines the business relationship: A consultant is typically not an employee of the organisation, but an independent individual or entity who acts on his own discretion. It is important to define the exact relationship between the client and the consultant, which in turn has a bearing upon their work, the payment, etc. This is done by the consultancy agreement.
  • Specifies the payment terms: It is necessary to specify the compensation that the consultant will receive for his services before the transaction begins, and that too in writing, so that there is no confusion or dispute regarding the same later on. A consultancy agreement specifies the details regarding the payment of compensation to the consultant.
  • Binding legal document: An agreement helps to protect the parties in case of a dispute. It acts as a legal document enforceable by law and presentable in court, so in case there is any breach of the agreement by either party, it can be used to enforce the terms of the agreement upon them. This makes the transaction more secure and prevents potential loss.
  • Indemnifies the parties: In many cases, the agreement may also indemnify the parties. This means that if any loss, harm or liability is caused to one party by the other, the former compensates the latter for it. This protects the parties from potential financial burdens.
  • Protects Intellectual Property: Consultancy agreements generally describe the rules surrounding ownership of intellectual property, maintaining the confidentiality of business processes, etc. which prevents any encroachment upon one’s trade secrets.

Clearly, a consultancy agreement acts as an advantage in a consulting situation because it addresses all the requirements of the business beforehand and sets out the goals or targets to be achieved. This removes any ambiguity from the transaction and helps ensure project success. However, for this to happen, the agreement itself must be drafted carefully, keeping in mind all the elements to be included in it to make it precise and informative. This brings us to the essential elements of a good consultancy agreement, which are discussed in the next section.

Essential Elements of a Consultancy Agreement

Every consultancy agreement is designed according to the needs of the parties involved and the surrounding conditions and hence, there is no fixed template for such an agreement. However, here are all the essential elements that can make your consultancy agreement more useful and clear.

  • Name of the Parties: First and foremost, the agreement should clearly specify the parties between whom it is drawn, i.e. the consultant and the client. This clause would also specify the exact business the two parties are engaged in. 
  • Scope of Work: As one of the most important clauses, this part of the agreement defines the nature and scope of the work which is required to be performed under the agreement. It describes the services and the manner in which they have to be provided by the consultant. For eg. will the consultant help you solve a productivity issue that you’re having, or will he advise you on how to raise money for the business and facilitate fund mobilization? Thus, the agreement gives a detailed description of the services. This clause helps to ensure that there is no confusion regarding the work before or during its performance. Thus, it brings clarity to the transaction.
  • Term: This clause specifies the exact duration for which the services will continue. That includes the start date as well as the finish date. It is also desirable to include relevant timelines by which time you plan to complete critical tasks with the consultant during the process of consultation. Timelines can help you plan and measure progress regularly.
  • Termination: Usually, an agreement is terminated when there is a breach by either party, but some agreements may also allow it to be terminated in other circumstances. This clause specifies certain situations, if any, where either party has the right to terminate the contract. It also explains the procedure to be followed in such a case as well as the notice period, if required. 
  • Compensation: One of the most important clauses is, of course, the compensation clause, which decides beforehand the exact amount of money that the client shall pay to the consultant for his or her services. It also specifies the method of payment as well as the date on which it is to be made.
  • Relationship of the Parties: This clause specifies the business relationship between the consultant and the client. A consultant is typically not an employee of the client organisation, but rather an independent individual or organisation who works on their own discretion. This means that though they have certain powers, they are not entitled to employee benefits of the client company. They also have to pay their own taxes. To determine such factors, it is necessary to determine the relationship between the parties.
  • Confidentiality: Every business has information about its client lists, operation strategies, future plans, etc. which needs to be kept confidential. When two separate organisations work together under a contract, like a consultant and a client, they get access to some sensitive information about the other party. Thus, every agreement has a confidentiality clause, which obligates each party to the agreement towards non-disclosure of the other party’s information without their consent, to protect it from competitors, the general public, etc.
  • Intellectual Property Rights: This clause includes all sorts of provisions for the protection of the Intellectual Property of the parties. It describes which party will have the rights to the work produced through consultation. Usually, such work is considered “work for hire” and its rights belong to the client. Apart from that, the clause also prevents the consultant from improperly using the trademarks of the client organisation.
  • Indemnity: The indemnification clause defines the responsibilities of each party towards the other in the face of unexpected problems and determines what protection each party will have from the other’s negligence. This means that if any loss, harm or liability is caused to one party by the other, the former will compensate the latter for it in the manner prescribed. This protects the parties from potential financial burdens.
  • Liability: When a client and a consultant work together, it may create a situation where the results might not come out as expected. For eg., you hire a consultant to help you increase the productivity of your company, but the final productivity has not increased as much as targeted. In this case, you might want to sue the consultant. Similarly, the consultant may want to sue you in certain situations. Each party, though, would want their liability to be as less as possible. Therefore, the best solution is to have a clear and detailed clause which determines the liability of each party towards the other.
  • Dispute resolution: Disputes between parties to an agreement are almost inevitable. How should such a dispute be resolved? This is determined by the dispute resolution clause. It explains the mediation process that should be opted by the parties, which is more cost and time effective than court proceedings – especially in small disputes. 
  • Conflict of Interest: This clause prevents conflict of interest for the consultant by restricting them from providing their services to a competitor of the client while they are still working with the client.
  • Expenses: As the consultant is working to provide services to the client, any expenses are undertaken by him during the service period which is necessary for the performance of the work that should be paid for by the client. Thus, this clause establishes this principle and describes the procedure by which the consultant will receive reimbursement for the expenses.
  • Non-modification: This clause states that no modifications can be made to the existing terms of the service unless they have been made officially and in writing. This helps to ensure that no party can take up unscrupulous or unfair means and try to dupe the other party for their own benefit.
  • Signature of both parties: In the end, both parties must sign the document and write the date on which it was signed. This completes the document and gives it legal value. The signature indicates that the parties have read and understood the terms of service and agree to them. Therefore, once signed, the parties cannot later refuse to abide by any rules given in the agreement.
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Do’s and Don’ts of a Consultancy Agreement

Prior to this, we saw the various elements and clauses that are advisable to include in our consultancy agreement. Besides that, there are certain things that we should keep in mind while drafting and signing a consultancy agreement. The Do’s and Don’ts of joining a Consultancy Agreement are listed below for your easy understanding.

Do’s

  1. Before completing or signing a consultancy agreement, decide what your goals are. This would have a direct bearing on what the agreement includes. Any agreement should at least describe the consultant’s goals or tasks, payment terms and the amount to be paid, deadlines, etc. as well as the client’s rights and expectations.
  2. Read the entire agreement carefully and understand the meaning of each and every term, as well as the implication of each and every clause. 
  3. Make sure that the contract is correct on all key terms so that both the consultant and the client share the same expectations concerning their commitments and obligations. There should be no room for misunderstandings.
  4. Revise the document or renegotiate the terms of either party feels it is not in their best interests or that it is too restrictive. It is important to do this beforehand so that there are no disputes or bad blood down the road.
  5. Sign two copies of the document, one for each party. Preserve the agreement in your business records so that it can be revisited easily whenever required. 

Don’ts

  1. Never sign an agreement before reviewing it in detail, just by relying on the trust you might have in the other party.
  2. Never assume certain terms are agreed to unless they are explicitly stated in the agreement. No aspect of the service process should be assumed to exist, and therefore each term should be specified in the agreement.

Conclusion

A Consultancy agreement benefits both the client and the consultant. It covers all the aspects related to the services to be provided within a given period of time, which helps to avoid misunderstandings between the two parties. Through this article, we have understood the essential elements that are required in each consultancy agreement to enable it to best cater to the needs of the consultant and the client.

References


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