The Trouble with Templates

The Trouble with Templates

Meeting your duty of care becomes more challenging when you simply insert into your own documents some language you receive from a colleague or an online legal document service.

Steven A. Adelman

People frequently ask me if I have a template or form that describes some provision or that has been used successfully at another venue. Yes, I have lots of contracts and plans, both that I have written and that I have collected over the years. But you can’t have them.

If you are making cookies, then it’s fine to use a cookie cutter. If you’re planning an event and need a contract with a vendor or promoter or an emergency action plan, then a one-size-fits-all approach is usually a bad idea.

Although I do feed my family by doing this sort of work for clients, I’m not just being selfish. If you’ve heard me speak, you know that I happily share when it’s appropriate. But when dealing with legal rights and event safety, anything less than a tailored approach that accounts for your specific circumstances and the resources to address them does your employer a disservice and exposes your colleagues and guests to unreasonable risks.

There is an actual legal reason for me to play Scrooge. Remember the duty of care that I write about in so many of these articles? That everyone – whether a venue or event professional as well as our guests – has a duty to behave as a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances.

Think about how you would comply with that duty if you simply insert into your own documents some language you receive from a colleague. A provision that is perfectly reasonable for their event might not be for yours, for any number of reasons that only you would know, because you know what you’re dealing with better than someone sending you their document. Tort law makes your consideration of your own circumstances an essential aspect of what makes your behavior reasonable or unreasonable.

I am not naïve about this. I see that well-meaning professionals exchange plans and contract language on useful forums like IAVM’s VenueNet, and that people scavenge contracts from the Internet or buy from doc-in-a-box outfits like LegalZoom. If you’re doing this, I fear for you.

You might think you’re safe because someone else’s plan or contract has probably passed through a lawyer’s hands at some point. But you don’t know how long ago, or whether that lawyer was any good, or whether they understood the risks that you routinely accept because it’s a condition of working with live events and crowds of fans who are not especially attentive to their own safety.

I went to a rock-climbing gym last weekend, where they handed me a contract in which my options were to either sign or leave. I just glanced through the terms because I knew they boiled down to me waiving all my rights and assuming all risks. I’ll make that decision for myself and my family. But if you accept all of that liability on behalf of your employer and everyone who attends your events, then you have a much higher tolerance for risk than I do.

It’s fine to share many things in life. But the more individualized something is, the less suitable it is to share with your friends. Legal documents are like that. Make sure the materials that govern your rights and responsibilities, and that determine how you respond to situations that are reasonably foreseeable for the way your events really work, are your own.