Contract Risk: How to Identify and Minimise Potential Pitfalls

Contracts are an essential part of any business transaction and are used to establish legally binding agreements between two parties. However, they also come with inherent risks that can be costly and time-consuming to resolve. It is crucial to be aware of these risks and take steps to mitigate them. In this article, we will explore the types of contract risk and provide practical ways to identify and minimise potential pitfalls. By doing so, you can safeguard your organisation's interests while ensuring that all parties involved in the contract are satisfied.

Types of contract risk

As in-house legal professionals, dealing with contracts is a significant part of your job. The contracting process involves a lot of risks that can have significant consequences for your organisation if not adequately addressed. Contract risk refers to the various potential problems or uncertainties that may arise from a contractual agreement. There are several types of contract risk which we explore in more detail below.

Performance Risk

Performance risk refers to the possibility that one or both parties may fail to fulfil their obligations under the contract. This can include issues such as delays in delivery, substandard quality of goods or services, or failure to pay for services rendered.

To mitigate performance risk, it is crucial to ensure that all terms and conditions of the contract are clearly defined and agreed upon by both parties. Additionally, it is essential to include provisions for penalties or termination of the contract if either party fails to fulfil their obligations.

Legal Risk

Legal risk is one of the most significant risks associated with contracts. This type of risk arises when a contract is challenged or deemed invalid due to legal issues. This can include inability to comply with laws and regulations, lack of capacity or authority to enter into a contract, or fraudulent misrepresentation.

To mitigate legal risk, it is crucial to ensure that all parties involved in the contract have the ability and power recognised by the law to enter into the agreement. Additionally, it is important to ensure that all terms and conditions of the contract comply with relevant laws and regulations.

Financial Risk

Financial risk refers to the potential for financial losses or damage as a result of the contract. This can include issues such as lost revenue, cost overruns, unforeseen expenses, or unexpected changes in market conditions. Financial risks can be caused by various factors such as poor forecasting, lack of planning, inadequate risk management processes.

To mitigate financial risk, it is essential to conduct a thorough financial analysis of the contract before entering into it. This includes evaluating the potential financial impact of the contract on the organisation and considering various scenarios that may affect the contract's profitability.

Operational Risk

This type of risk arises when an organisation fails to deliver contracted goods or services as per the agreed terms and conditions. This can be due to inexperience, inadequate infrastructure, outdated processes or insufficient resources.

Reputational Risk

Reputational risk refers to the potential for negative publicity or damage to the organisation's reputation as a result of the contract. This can include issues such as ethical concerns, environmental impact, or violations of human rights.

To mitigate reputational harm, it is important to conduct due diligence on all parties involved in the contract and ensure that the contract complies with relevant ethical and environmental standards. Additionally, it is essential to have a crisis management plan in place to deal with any potential reputational damage.

stress from contract risk

Security Risk

Contracts can also pose security risks to an organisation. This type of risk arises when the other party breaches data confidentiality, infringes intellectual property rights or engages in cybercrime. To mitigate security risks, it is crucial to include confidentiality and security clauses in the contract. It is also important to conduct background checks on the other party and ensure that they have adequate security measures in place.

Mitigating Contract Risk

Identifying and mitigating contractual risk is critical for all organisations. As an in-house legal professional, it is your responsibility to ensure that the organisation's contractual agreements are free from potential pitfalls. Let's explore how to limit your risk exposure when it comes to contracts.

1. Draft Effective Contracts

Drafting an effective contract is crucial for ensuring clear communication, minimising disputes, and protecting the interests of all parties involved. Here are some key elements and best practices to consider when drafting contracts:

Clear and Concise Language

Using clear and concise language is essential to ensure that the terms and conditions of the contract are easily understood by all parties. Avoid unnecessary jargon or complex legal terminology that may confuse or misinterpret the contract's intent. Clearly define key terms and concepts to minimise ambiguity.

Detailed and Specific Terms

A well-drafted contract should contain detailed and specific terms that cover all aspects of the agreement. Clearly outline the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of each party involved. Specify important details such as pricing, delivery schedules, payment terms, performance expectations, and dispute resolution mechanisms. Including such specifics leaves little room for misinterpretation or confusion.

Realistic and Achievable Obligations

Ensure that the obligations and commitments outlined in the contract are realistic and achievable for all parties involved. Unrealistic expectations or unattainable deadlines can lead to frustration, disputes, and potential breaches of contract. Conduct a thorough assessment of each party's capabilities and resources before finalising the terms.

Ensuring Compliance with Legal and Regulatory Requirements

When drafting a contract, it is vital to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Familiarise yourself with relevant local, state, and federal laws that may impact the subject matter of the contract. Address any legal requirements, permits, licenses, or certifications necessary for the agreement's execution and fulfilment.

2. Negotiate Favourable Contract Terms

Negotiating favourable contract terms is crucial for achieving a mutually beneficial agreement that protects your interests and aligns with your business objectives. Here are key considerations, strategies, and potential risks to keep in mind when negotiating contract terms:

Identifying Key Contract Terms

Before entering into contract negotiations, it is important to identify the key terms that hold significant importance and potential impact on your business. These may include pricing, payment terms, delivery schedules, termination clauses, intellectual property rights, confidentiality provisions, indemnification, dispute resolution mechanisms, and liability limitations. Understanding these critical terms allows you to focus your negotiation efforts on areas that matter most.

Strategies for Negotiating Favourable Contract Terms

  • Prepare Thoroughly: Conduct comprehensive research and gather relevant information about the other party, market standards, industry practices, and legal requirements. This knowledge equips you with leverage and helps you make informed arguments during negotiations.

  • Establish Clear Objectives: Define your goals and priorities for the negotiation process. Identify the ideal terms you would like to secure and alternatives you can accept. This clarity helps you stay focused and maintain a strategic approach during discussions.

  • Build Rapport and Collaboration: Foster a collaborative negotiation environment by building rapport and open communication with the other party. Seek common ground and mutually beneficial solutions that can create a win-win scenario. This approach can increase the likelihood of reaching favourable terms and maintaining a positive business relationship.

  • Use Compromises and Trade-offs: Negotiations often involve compromises and trade-offs. Prioritise the terms that are most important to you and be willing to make concessions on less critical issues. Finding areas of agreement and flexibility can help create a favourable outcome.

  • Leverage Alternatives: Understand your alternatives to the current negotiation. Being aware of alternative suppliers, buyers, customers, or options can provide you with leverage during negotiations, as it reduces your dependency on a single agreement.

gold star negotiation to avoid contract risk

Understanding the Risks of Overly Favourable Terms

While negotiating favourable terms is important, it is equally crucial to understand the potential risks associated with excessively one-sided or overly favourable terms:

  • Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Overly favourable terms may inadvertently violate legal or regulatory requirements. Ensure that the negotiated terms adhere to applicable laws and regulations to avoid potential legal consequences.

  • Imbalanced Relationships: Imposing highly favourable terms on the other party can strain business relationships, erode trust, and lead to future conflicts. A collaborative and balanced approach promotes long-term partnerships and positive interactions.

  • Unforeseen Circumstances: Negotiating overly favourable terms without considering potential risks or unforeseen circumstances can leave you vulnerable. Be mindful of potential contingencies and incorporate provisions that provide flexibility or mitigation strategies.

  • Market Reputation: If negotiations result in terms that are perceived as unfair or unreasonable by the market, it can impact your reputation and future business opportunities. Consider the broader implications and public perception of the negotiated terms.

Balancing your objectives with collaborative problem-solving can lead to agreements that protect your interests while fostering positive business relationships.

3. Implement Strong Contract Management Practices

Contract management is a critical process that encompasses the administration, execution, and monitoring of contracts to ensure compliance, mitigate risks, and maximise value throughout the contract lifecycle. By implementing strong contract management practices, organisations can effectively manage their contractual obligations and optimise their business relationships. Furthermore, effective contract management aims to minimise risks, enhance operational efficiency, and maximise the value derived from contractual agreements.

Key Components of Contract Management

  • Contract Creation and Standardisation: Establishing a well-defined contract creation process that includes standardised templates, clauses, and terms can help streamline contract generation and ensure consistency and accuracy.

  • Contract Review and Approval Processes: Implementing robust review and approval procedures enables thorough examination of contract terms, conditions, and obligations. This step helps identify potential risks, discrepancies, or issues that require resolution before finalising the contract.

  • Contract Execution and Tracking: Efficiently executing contracts by obtaining required signatures, maintaining proper documentation, and tracking key milestones or deadlines is crucial. This component ensures that contracts are legally binding and initiates the monitoring of contractual performance.

  • Monitoring and Reporting on Contract Performance: Regularly monitoring and assessing contract performance against agreed-upon terms and key performance indicators (KPIs) is essential. This component enables timely identification of deviations, non-compliance, or underperformance, facilitating proactive measures to address issues and mitigate risks.

  • Contract Renewal, Amendment, and Termination: Effective contract management includes planning and executing actions related to contract renewal, amendment, or termination. This involves timely evaluation of contract expiration dates, negotiation of renewal terms, modification of contracts to accommodate changing circumstances, or managing contract termination processes.

One of the best strategies for effective contract management is to use a contract management software platform like Plexus. Here are some of the benefits of implementing a contract management software platform:

  • Streamline and centralise contract-related activities like contract creation, storage, tracking, and reporting.

  • Monitor contract performance by regularly tracking and assessing contract performance against established KPIs and milestones. With software, it's straightforward to capture and analyse data on deliverables, timelines, quality, and financial aspects. This information provides insights into contract performance, identifies potential issues, and facilitates informed decision-making.

  • Foster effective communication and collaboration as the software encourages open dialogue and collaboration among internal teams, external stakeholders, and parties involved in the contract.

  • Consistent and standardised practices are built in. This helps ensure adherence to best practices, facilitates knowledge transfer, and enhances the efficiency of contract management activities.

By implementing strong contract management practices, organisations can effectively navigate the complexities of contracts, mitigate risks, ensure compliance, and optimise the value derived from their contractual agreements. This proactive approach enables efficient contract administration, enhances operational performance, and fosters successful business relationships.

Contracting Pitfalls to Avoid

Contracting is a crucial aspect of business relationships and should be approached with care and attention to detail. To ensure successful outcomes and minimise potential risks, it is important to avoid common contracting pitfalls. Here are some key pitfalls to be mindful of:

Overpromising and Under Delivering

One common pitfall is making promises or commitments that cannot be fulfilled. Overpromising in contract negotiations can create unrealistic expectations and set the stage for disappointment, disputes, and damage to business relationships. It is essential to accurately assess your capabilities and resources before making contractual commitments to ensure that you can deliver on your promises.

Ignoring or Downplaying Risks

Failing to adequately identify, assess, and address potential risks is a significant contracting pitfall. It is crucial to conduct a thorough risk assessment and incorporate appropriate risk mitigation measures in the contract. Ignoring or downplaying risks can lead to unexpected consequences, financial losses, and legal disputes. Proactive risk management is key to safeguarding your interests.

Relying on Verbal Agreements

Verbal agreements can be ambiguous and easily misunderstood. Relying solely on verbal agreements without proper documentation exposes you to significant risks. It is important to document all agreements in writing to ensure clarity, establish enforceability, and protect the interests of all parties involved. A written contract provides a clear reference point for resolving disputes and minimising misunderstandings.

Failing to Involve Legal

Not involving legal in the contract negotiation and review process is a critical pitfall. Legal professionals possess the expertise to identify legal risks, ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, and draft or review contracts with precision. Engaging legal counsel helps protect your rights, minimise legal exposure, and enhance the enforceability of the contract.

Rushing into Agreements without Proper Review

Entering into agreements without conducting a thorough review is a risky pitfall. It is crucial to carefully review all contract terms, conditions, and obligations before finalising the agreement. Rushing into contracts without proper review increases the likelihood of overlooking critical details, hidden costs, or unfavourable terms. Take the time to understand the implications of the contract and seek clarification on any ambiguities before committing.

By avoiding these common pitfalls, you can enhance the quality and effectiveness of your contracts, minimise risks, and foster successful business relationships. Attention to detail, proactive risk management, and involving the necessary expertise, such as legal counsel, are essential components of sound contract management practices.


When it comes to contract management, it is essential to be aware of the potential dangers and associated risks. Whether it is relying on verbal agreements, or rushing into agreements without proper review, each of these can lead to significant financial losses and legal disputes.

To mitigate these risks, it is crucial to conduct a thorough risk assessment and incorporate appropriate risk mitigation measures in the contract. This includes documenting all agreements in writing, involving legal in the contract negotiation and review process, and carefully reviewing all contract terms, conditions, and obligations before finalising the agreement.

Proactive risk management is key to safeguarding your interests and fostering successful business relationships. By paying attention to detail and involving the necessary expertise you can enhance the quality and effectiveness of your contracts, minimise risks, and ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.


What is contract risk?

Contract risk refers to the potential for financial loss, operational disruptions, or legal liabilities arising from the terms, conditions, and performance of a contractual agreement.

What are the types of contract risk?

The types of contract risk include financial risk, performance risk, compliance risk, legal risk, and reputational risk, which can arise from factors such as breach of contract, non-performance, non-compliance with laws and regulations, and adverse events impacting reputation or financial stability.

How do you identify contract risk?

Contract risks can be identified through a comprehensive review and analysis of the contract terms, obligations, potential liabilities, performance indicators, regulatory requirements, and potential external factors that may impact the contract's successful execution and outcomes. Additionally, conducting a risk assessment and involving relevant stakeholders can help identify specific risks associated with the contract.

What are the best practices for mitigating contract risk?

Mitigating contract risk involves implementing best practices such as conducting thorough due diligence, carefully reviewing and negotiating contract terms, clearly defining rights and obligations, incorporating appropriate risk allocation mechanisms, establishing performance monitoring and reporting processes, maintaining open communication and transparency with all parties, periodically reviewing and updating contracts, ensuring compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and involving legal and subject matter experts when necessary. By adhering to these practices, organisations can proactively identify and address potential risks, enhance contract performance, and minimise the likelihood of disputes or financial losses.

What are the consequences of not addressing contract risk?

Failing to address contract risk can lead to various consequences, including financial losses, damaged business relationships, disputes, litigation, reputational damage, and regulatory non-compliance. It can result in breached contractual obligations, unfulfilled expectations, delays, increased costs, revenue leakage and potential legal liabilities. Moreover, ignoring contract risk can erode trust, hinder future business opportunities, and negatively impact the organisation's overall financial stability and reputation in the market. Timely identification and mitigation of contract risk are crucial to protect the interests of all parties involved and ensure the successful execution of contractual agreements.

Accelerate your contract lifecycle

Plexus' contract management software gives you everything you need to accelerate business productivity in one modular platform. Get contracts signed faster, streamline document workflows, collaborate in real-time and integrate with the apps you already rely on.

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