Accountants are usually reluctant to become involved in helping to document an agreement because of the needs to cover all the points and to use the right words. There is the view that legal matters are things best left to a solicitor. However, that doesn’t need to be the case, and often an accountant can provide greater value than a solicitor when a business enters into a contract.
Without question, writing a legal document from scratch does require legal expertise and experience. The draughtsman needs to know what law is applicable to the circumstances, and whether that law requires particular wording to be included or excluded.
However, much as a high street solicitor would like you to think that each document he or she writes takes many hours of original work, it is very likely that he or she will use template wording as a basis, just as you might.
That is because documents of a particular type are so similar. Using a template (whether entire documents or just sets of paragraphs) saves a lot of time and removes the need for specialist legal knowledge.
Most legal documents of a particular type have the same structure and contents, even if the detail differs. For example, every loan will name the borrower and the lender, state the amount being lent and the conditions relating to repayment.
Further, the vast majority of circumstances in which documents are used occur frequently, even if the parties themselves have not been in the situation before. For example, you might be hiring your first employee, but employment is something that happens regularly.
It may be necessary to choose whether to include a paragraph or not (for example, those that bring in a guarantor for a loan). But a good template will give the options, and guidance of which to choose. There should also be help as to how far to change a paragraph, and whether to leave one alone completely.
So when a document template already considers what law should be included, the majority of the remaining work is simply to describe the commercial and practical terms, and an accountant is particularly well placed to describe these.
An accountant is likely to be consulted for strategic advice on or be responsible for many areas of the business, perhaps including human resources, or IT, as well as accounting and finance. He or she is likely to be asked for an opinion regularly. In contrast, a solicitor is usually only consulted on a particular issue when it arises.
As a result of this proximity, along with professional expertise, an accountant can usually describe the commercial terms of the deal and the practical requirements of each party far better than a solicitor and perhaps far better even than any director.
Accountants are helped by a growing use of plain English in documents, rather than jargon. In fact, recently enacted law often requires that in order to be contractually binding, both parties must be able to understand the agreement. This is particularly the case where one party is a consumer customer or an employee. Sometimes legal jargon does need to be used since certain words are the best at describing something in particular, but use of jargon can be minimised. Cross referencing numbered paragraphs and using long sentences can certainly be avoided with good drafting. Paragraphs dealing with commercial terms can be set apart from those dealing with legal matters.
In summary, accountants are well placed to edit legal document templates, precisely because of their business expertise and knowledge. For commonly used documents, much of the legal content is standard, leaving the value in negotiating and documenting the commercial terms.