Crafting effective contracts to protect your interests—and the interests of your clients—doesn’t need to be obfuscating or overwhelming. While the services of a lawyer may be needed for complex design or web projects, getting something in writing for run-of-the-mill projects—that will hold up in court—is a relatively simple process. I recommend beginning with the AIGA standard form of agreement for design services found below. Then spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the information contained in the links below. After you have an overview of what is available to you, you can cut-and-paste the perfect agreement to meet your specific circumstances.
I particularly like the summary passage that appears here:
We will always do our best to fulfill your needs and meet your goals, but sometimes it is best to have a few simple things written down so that we both know what is what, who should do what and what happens if things go wrong. In this contract you won’t find complicated legal terms or large passages of unreadable text. We have no desire to trick you into signing something that you might later regret. We do want what’s best for the safety of both parties, now and in the future.
See? Contracts don’t have to be daunting.
Here are the resources you need to get started. Note that each agreement is yours for the taking (CC0) and may be amended as you see fit.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The resources provided here are for educational purposes. If you have concerns about how to structure an agreement, consult a qualified lawyer in your state. However, under no circumstances should you include language in a contract that you do not fully understand. Courts recognize plain-English contracts, which are appreciated by both parties, especially tentative clients who may have had bad contract experiences in the past.