If you’ve gotten a law degree, you’re probably familiar with the finer points of contract modification and business law. For the rest of us, the finer points of the law are murky at best. If you’re preparing to sign a performance contract, sales contract or written contract of any kind, you should familiarize yourself with the concept of contract modification.

Contract modification means exactly what its name implies. Before a contract is signed, both parties should review it and make any necessary changes. The reasons for these changes can be numerous. Perhaps one party feels it will not be able to operate under the conditions outlined in the contract, or perhaps one party simply wishes to clarify one point of the contract with more direct language. Whatever the reason, just remember that contract modifications should always be made before the contract is signed.

To illustrate an example of a contract modification, consider a photographer who has recently taken some family portraits of a young couple and their new baby. In the contract that the photographer has the couple sign, he states that he can use the photos on his web site and in any promotional materials he wishes. The couple is not comfortable with this. They don’t like the idea of strangers seeing them with their baby, so they refuse to sign. In this case, the photographer can choose to amend the contract to state that he will not use their pictures in any promotional materials or on his web site or he can remain firm on the point and risk losing the couple’s business. It should be obvious that in this case he should amend the contract. The lost business is worth much more than the unrestricted use of the photos he takes.

In the event that a contract modification is made after signing the agreement, things get a little more complicated. If, for example, Party A would like to amend a part of the contract they signed with Party B, the best course of action is to talk to Party B about the matter directly. Once again, compromise will be key, but in this case Party B could refuse and sue for breach of contract in the event that Party A goes back on any part of it.

The best way to avoid situations like that is to thoroughly review all contracts with a lawyer before signing them. Write out a list of all the terms you wish to include in the contract so you can make sure the contract is thorough without being overly broad. Establishing good communication with the other party involved in the contract will also help ensure that the process is a smooth one.