Let’s Talk About Agreements (Instead of Just Contracts)

This might be a surprising take from a company known for signature software, but we think we should be talking about agreements more and not just contracts.

What is a contract?

Don’t get us wrong: Contracts are really important. They’re legally enforceable documents that legal teams work on every day. They memorialise terms, conditions, rights, and obligations. A contract involves an offer by one party and acceptance by another, often with some negotiation and counter-offers in between. Issues like enforceability are governed by a thicket of laws and regulations.

Specifically, a contract must have: 1) an offer; 2) acceptance; and 3) consideration. Consideration is the main difference between a contract and an agreement. Consideration is what each party promises to do in order to execute the contract. You can think of it as the output of the contract: the goods, services, or other things of value that each party offers. For example, when you agree to buy a car, your consideration is your money and the dealer’s consideration is the car. (Learn more about contracts in this article.)

What is an agreement?

An agreement is any event in which two or more people or parties commit to doing something together—a meeting of the minds. Contracts are a subset of agreements, but they’re only one kind of agreement. To put this another way: all contracts are agreements, but not all agreements are contracts.

Organisations and individuals make a lot of agreements that don’t involve formal lawyer-led negotiation all the time, like job offers, work orders, invoices, and leases. The local mom-and-pop offers a two-for-one special that’s in effect for just this week. A streaming service offers different tiers of service, each with a different subscription fee. Tap your credit card on a card reader to pay for a caramel macchiato at the coffee shop—that’s an agreement. Scribble your signature on a piece of paper authorising the auto repair shop to replace the muffler on your car—that’s an agreement too. Use an online payment system to send ten bucks to your friend, e-sign a patient consent form, click to acknowledge that you accept a website’s privacy policy—the list goes on.

At Docusign, we’re focused on agreement management to help unlock the power of data in a way that works for everyone, not just legal departments. That enables organisations to gain greater insight into their business and create new services that better serve their customers and achieve a competitive advantage. So the next time you hear us talk about agreements instead of contracts, that’s why.

Types of agreements

Here are some examples of agreements that organisations create every day, arranged by line of business.

Human Resources

  • Offer letters
  • New hire paperwork
  • Onboarding/offboarding checklists


  • Event registrations
  • Customer communication approvals
  • Mass mailing/email approval


  • Account change
  • Work orders
  • Terms change

IT Operations

  • Asset tracking
  • Change requirements
  • Incident reporting


  • Work orders
  • Lease agreements
  • Parking permits


  • Sales order processing
  • Special deal terms


  • Invoices
  • Expense processing
  • Audit and inventory signoff


  • NDAs
  • Internal compliance


  • Purchase order
  • Statement of work
  • Master service agreement

Product management

  • Change management
  • Release management
  • Code review reporting

Looking to transform the way you create, commit to, and manage agreements? Learn about intelligent agreement management and Docusign IAM.

Related Topics