Master Service Agreements explained


Jul 12, 2023

No matter what service your business is providing, contracts are a crucial part of the process and making commercial contract negotiations move faster can be tricky. However, having a standardised Master Services Agreement (MSA) can be a game-changer when it comes to accelerating sales.

No matter what service your business provides, contracts are a crucial part of the process and making commercial contract negotiations move faster can be tricky. However, having a standardised Master Services Agreement (MSA) can be a game-changer for accelerating sales.

For instance, by using these, you can streamline the contract process and focus on what matters to your business - closing deals and building strong business relationships.

So, let us break down everything you need to know about a Master Services Agreement, from identifying the proper use for an MSA to diving into the critical parts of the contract and how you can set up efficient contract processes to close your deals faster. 

Table of Contents

  • What is an MSA used for?

  • How does an MSA differ from other contracts?

  • Why are MSAs Important in Business Relationships?

  • Can Master Service Agreements be Modified?

  • What Happens if There’s a Conflict Between an MSA and a Specific Project Contract?

  • How do MSAs Handle Confidentiality and Intellectual Property?

  • Are MSAs Legally Binding?

  • What is the Typical Duration of an MSA?

  • How Does an MSA Benefit Smaller Businesses?

  • What Are the Benefits of Using an MSA?

  • What should your MSA include? 

  • Master Service Agreement Template

  • Are you looking for more than a copy-and-paste Master Service Agreement Template?

  • How can you efficiently manage the storage of the Master Service Agreement?

  • What Are Some Common Pitfalls to Master Service Agreements

  • What is the Difference Between a Master Services Agreement vs a Statement of Work

  • What Should Be Considered for an MSA Focused on Sales

  • Master Services Agreements for Construction Focus Company

  • Master Service Agreement Template Next Steps

How Can You Define What a Master Agreement Framework MSA is?

Also known as Framework Agreements, MSAs are an alternative to Services Agreements. 

For instance, a Business Master Services Agreement is a one-off agreement designed to provide a single, specific service. 

At the same time, an MSA provides a framework for delivering services over a longer term - designed to be flexible and adaptable to meet the changing needs of a business relationship between the customer and supplier. 

Comprehensive Contract That Establishes the Overarching Terms and Conditions 

The MSA is a comprehensive contract establishing the overarching terms and conditions between the customer and the supplier. For example, it sets the foundations for an ongoing business relationship by outlining general provisions, such as the following:

  • Payment terms

  • Intellectual property rights

  • Dispute resolution

  • Confidentiality 

  • Termination clause

  • Payment terms

  • Product Warranties

  • Delivery terms

  • and more

The MSA is designed to govern multiple projects between the parties - the details of which are set out in an Individual Statement of Work (or ‘SOW’). 

What is an Individual Statement of Work (SOW)

The SOW serves as an appendix to the MSA and acts as a work order for a specific service, project or deliverable, for instance.

It will typically include specific details of that project, including project objectives, timelines, milestones, pricing and any unique terms relevant to that particular project.  

So, whilst the MSA provides the framework for the longer-term business relationship, the parties will agree on new SOWs to specify the details of individual projects within that relationship. 

How does an MSA differ from other contracts?

A Master Service Agreement differs from other contracts in that it outlines the framework for future agreements, streamlining future negotiations and reducing the risk of disputes as its primary differentiator.

Why are MSAs Important in Business Relationships?

They provide you and your business partners with a structured and efficient framework for business relationships, reducing the time and cost of negotiating future agreements.

Can Master Service Agreements be Modified?

Yes, they can be modified through mutual agreement of the parties involved. 

However, this is often done through amendments or separate agreements that address specific projects or transactions.

What Happens if There’s a Conflict Between an MSA and a Specific Project Contract?

If a conflict arises, the terms of the specific project contract will typically prevail to the extent of the conflict, but this depends on the language used in the MSA.

How do MSAs Handle Confidentiality and Intellectual Property?

MSAs handle confidentiality by often including clauses that protect confidential information and define the ownership and use rights of any intellectual property created during the relationship.

Are MSAs Legally Binding?

Yes, Master Service Agreements are legally binding contracts - provided they contain all the elements required for a valid contract and are adequately executed within both party's jurisdictions.

What is the Typical Duration of an MSA?

The duration of a Master Service Agreement varies but often ranges from one to several years, with provisions for extension and termination built in to extend their durations if required.

How Does an MSA Benefit Smaller Businesses?

For smaller businesses, MSAs can provide you with a framework for dealing with larger companies, ensuring that your interests are protected and reducing the legal costs associated with individual contracts.

How do MSAs Benefit Medium-Sized Businesses?

For medium-sized businesses, MSAs can benefit you in a number of ways, such as:

Risk Mitigation

MSAs help your medium-sized business mitigate risks by clearly outlining the terms, conditions, and scope of work. This clarity is then crucial for your business that may not have extensive legal resources.

Efficiency in Negotiations

Once an MSA is in place, medium-sized businesses can engage in multiple projects or transactions with the same service provider without having to renegotiate terms for each new project. 

This saves you time and resources.

Cost Savings

By establishing terms like pricing, payment schedules, and service levels upfront, your medium business can better manage budgets and potentially negotiate better rates due to long-term relationships.

How do MSAs Benefit Enterprise-Sized Businesses?

For Enterprise sized businesses, MSAs can benefit you in a number of ways, such as:

Standardisation Across the Organisation

For large, enterprise-level businesses, MSAs offer you a way to standardise your legal agreements across various departments and subsidiaries - ensuring uniformity and compliance.

Strategic Partnerships

MSAs also help to facilitate strategic partnerships by building a long-term relationship framework - which can be crucial for enterprises looking to collaborate on large-scale projects.

Global Operations

Enterprises operating in multiple jurisdictions benefit from MSAs as you can tailor the agreements to comply with different legal requirements - aiding in international operations much easier.


Enterprises can also better scale your operations and projects when you have standardised agreements in place. Which, in turn, can lead to more efficient business expansion and growth.

Leverage in Negotiations

Due to their size and the potential for substantial contracts, enterprises can often negotiate more favourable terms in an MSA, due to you being able to leverage your position in the market better than smaller and medium-sized ones can.

What Are the Benefits of Using an MSA?

There are many benefits to a MSA, some of which include:

Develop Long-Term Relationships

An MSA provides you with the framework for businesses to work together over a long period. 

As a result, it establishes the key terms and conditions upfront, allowing both parties to develop a mutual understanding of expectations and requirements. This setting of expectations, in turn, fosters both trust and confidence in each other - and helps facilitate mutual success over time. 

This can further align interests and force open communication up front - leading to a stronger working relationship that can withstand the ups and downs of long-term projects. 

It also helps to establish clear expectations and responsibilities for both parties. For instance, it can help minimise the risk of disputes arising in the future in just one area.

It can help minimise disruption risks, for example, by proactively addressing potential disputes and providing a structured means of resolving them - MSAs can help promote healthy, long-lasting business relationships. 

How Can It Help Disputes

If a dispute does occur, the dispute resolution process within the MSA provides you with a framework for managing it in a timely and effective manner - helping to preserve the relationship over the long run.

Efficiency and Flexibility

By defining the key terms and responsibilities in advance, you can save time and resources when it comes to subsequent projects and SOWs because you can avoid unnecessary renegotiations. 

For instance, you don’t have to start from scratch if you want to add new services to the mix. Instead, you can submit and agree on a new SOW that follows the existing MSA, and you are good to go! 

Changing Circumstances

When it comes to changing circumstances and an MSA, you can be more flexible and responsive to the evolving circumstances without worrying about redoing the entire contract. 

Consequently, a Master Service Agreement is a great way to establish a solid foundation for a business relationship while maintaining the flexibility to grow and adapt to your business over time. 

Legal Protection

By carefully negotiating and defining essential terms in the MSA, both parties can ensure that risks are appropriately allocated between them. For example, by setting out the limitations of liability, intellectual property rights, dispute resolution and termination provisions, each party can protect their business interests from legal issues. 

What should your MSA include? 

Key terms within an MSA are: 


Identify and provide details of the customer and supplier involved.

SOW Template

Typically including the specific details of a project, services to be provided, milestones and deadlines

Responsibilities and Obligations

Outline the responsibilities and obligations of each party, including what services will be provided, any requirements to provide information or equipment and any policies that the parties should follow

Payment Terms

Including the payment schedule, invoicing procedures and any late payment fees

Intellectual Property Rights

When it comes to Intellectual Property Rights, this section should define ownership and use of any intellectual property developed or used in connection with the services provided 

Confidentiality Obligations 

The Master Service Agreements should outline Confidentiality Obligations - how confidential information should be treated, who has access to it and for how long information should remain confidential.


Outline how to change the MSA or any SOWs via a formal process, including how changes will be requested, evaluated and approved.


Provide the liability of both parties for any losses or damages incurred as a result of the services provided, including any limitations and indemnities.

Dispute Resolution Process

There should be a section for resolving disputes that may arise under the MSA, including the process for initiating the procedure when there is a dispute and the steps involved in fixing it.

Termination Rights 

The termination rights section should outline the circumstances under which either party may terminate the MSA, including any notice periods. 

Looking for more than a copy-and-paste Master Service Agreement Template?

Then, find out how Pocketlaw can easily streamline your entire Master Service Agreement process and all your other legal documents. Why not book a demo today to find out if we are right for you?

How can you efficiently manage the storage of the Master Service Agreement?

One way is to print it out and hope it doesn't get lost; another way is to keep it in your emails and wish it does not get deleted.

Alternatively, you can look to use the Pocketlaw platform to securely store your Master Service Agreement templates and use the platform for designates, which can then be logged and tracked.

What Are Some Common Pitfalls to Master Service Agreements

Master Service Agreements, mainly if you use a template that is not well suited to your business, can bring a lot of pitfalls if not done well. These can include, for instance:

Vague or Ambiguous Language

For instance, more explicit agreement terms can lead to misunderstandings and disputes.

Consequently, it is essential to use precise language to clearly define your and your supplier's obligations, deliverables, timelines, and other vital terms and areas.

Overlooking Conflict Resolution Methods

Another area to look out for is a failure to specify how disputes will be resolved, which can lead to lengthy and costly legal battles down the line.

As a result, including clear dispute resolution procedures can save both parties time and resources.

Ignoring Intellectual Property Rights

Not clearly defining who owns the rights to work products, inventions, or other intellectual property created during the course of the agreement can lead to legal conflicts down the line.

Inadequate Scope Definition

An MSA should clearly define its scope to avoid scope creep, which can lead to unanticipated work or expenses.

Neglecting Termination Clauses

With explicit termination provisions, ending an agreement can be simple.

Therefore, Termination clauses should outline how and under what circumstances the parties can terminate the agreement.

Inadequate Confidentiality Provisions

Failing to protect sensitive information can lead to data breaches and loss of your competitive advantage.

Confidentiality clauses are therefore vital in safeguarding business secrets, and these should be included and included.

Insufficient Attention to Compliance and Regulatory Issues

MSAs, for instance, must comply with relevant laws and regulations.

Non-compliance by wording within it can result in legal penalties and damage to reputation and invalidate the document if it is required in court.;

Failure to Address Changes in Circumstances

Every business can see its needs and environments change over time. Consequently, the agreement may become updated and practical with a mechanism to review and modify the MSA.

As a result, this mechanism needs to be a key consideration as part of the document.

Utilizing technologies like AI contract review can greatly facilitate this process, ensuring that the agreement remains relevant and up-to-date with evolving business needs and regulatory changes.

Neglecting Insurance and Liability Issues

Not addressing liability and insurance issues can lead to significant financial risks for areas not covered by the project, but it should be.

As a result, it is essential to state the insurance requirements and how liability is allocated clearly.

Over-Reliance on Standard Templates

While standard templates can be a good starting point, relying solely on them without customisation to your specific business needs can result in gaps and issues needing to be adequately addressed.

What is the Difference Between a Master Services Agreement and a Statement of Work

The difference between a Master Services Agreement (MSA) and a Statement of Work (SOW) lies primarily in their scope and function within the context of business and contractual relationships. 

For instance, an MSA is a comprehensive contract that outlines the general terms and conditions under which the parties will work together. It covers broad aspects of the business relationship and sets a framework for all transactions, outlining the legal, payment, and dispute resolution terms. It's more about setting the ground rules for the business relationship.

An SOW, on the other hand, is a document that provides specific details about each individual project or task that falls under the MSA. It's more detailed and project-specific.

So, while an MSA provides the general terms and guidelines under which businesses will collaborate, the SOW gives both parties specific details about each project within that framework.

Therefore, the MSA is more about the overall relationship and legal safeguards, whereas the SOW is about the practical execution of specific tasks or projects.

What Should Be Considered for an MSA Focused On Sales

In the context of sales, a Master Service Agreement (MSA) is crucial in establishing a comprehensive and mutually agreed-upon framework for ongoing business relationships between a service provider and a client. 

For instance, these will be focused more on.

Establishing Terms and Conditions

A Sales-focused MSA will set out the general terms and conditions for sales and services. 

This includes payment terms, delivery schedules, quality standards, and other critical aspects of the business relationship.

Streamline Negotiations 

With a sales-focused MSA in place, sales negotiations for individual projects or orders can be more efficient. Since the overarching terms have already been agreed upon, only the specific details of each sale need to be negotiated.

Reducing Legal Risk

By clearly defining both parties' legal responsibilities and liabilities, an MSA focused on a sale topic can help reduce the risk of disputes. 

This clarity is beneficial in sales where transactions are frequent and ongoing.

Facilitating Customisation of Services

In sales, customer needs can vary greatly. As a result, a sales-focused MSA provides you with a flexible framework that can accommodate customisations for individual sales or projects.

Crafting a well-thought-out MSA around more of a sales topic is crucial for sales-focused organisations. 

This focus is so, as it not only protects the legal interests of both parties but also lays the foundation for a solid and efficient business relationship - helping to give you smoother transactions and potentially leading to increased sales and customer loyalty at the same time.

Master Services Agreements for Construction Focus Company

A Master Service Agreement (MSA) in the construction industry differs from an MSA for a sales-focused company, as this gives a comprehensive contract that establishes the terms under which construction services will be performed. 

Consequently, these are structured slightly differently.

As a result, it is essential, due to the complexity, duration, and risk involved in construction projects, to make sure these are tailored accordingly.

For instance, some additional areas of focus for a construction MSA should be around:

Defining Scope and Standards

An MSA in construction outlines the scope of the work and the standards that that work must adhere to. For instance, it will set the general guidelines for various projects, including quality standards, materials to be used, and safety regulations, that a sales-focused MSA may not need to include, to name a few areas.

Risk Management

Construction can involve significant risks to health and safety over more sales-focused companies, for instance, including sections on workplace accidents, delays, and what happens if cost overrun would be good contenders to include here.

A Construction MSA, therefore, needs to address more of these risks by defining liability, insurance requirements, indemnification clauses, and safety protocols.

Payment Terms

A construction MSA might also need to establish payment schedules, invoicing procedures, and terms regarding retainage - which is a portion of the agreed contract price deliberately withheld until the work is substantially complete to ensure that quality and contractual obligations are met - that a sales focused MSA would not need to.

Consequently, an MSA in construction helps manage large-scale projects by providing a clear, mutually agreed-upon framework. 

It minimises risks and legal disputes, improves efficiency, and ensures that both parties know their responsibilities, rights, and expectations. 

However, due to the complexity of construction projects, it's advisable for these agreements to differ from one focused more on product sales, for instance, due to the varying nature of this industry specifically.

Master Service Agreement Template Next Steps

Consequently, are you ready to streamline your business deals quickly and securely?

Then look no further, Get started with a free account today.

Please note: Pocketlaw is not a substitute for an attorney or law firm. So, should you have any legal questions on the content of this page, please get in touch with a qualified legal professional.

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