(Dow Jones) Financial advisors are typically lured to new brokerages with generous promises, but promises don't buy happiness. Contracts do.

Whether it's the corner office, a higher payout or back-end bonus-or all three-the details need to be put in writing in a sample contract or a letter of intent, and then signed ahead of time, lawyers say. Otherwise there's nothing to guarantee that the hiring firm will deliver on them.

"One of the key things that any financial advisor should consider when moving from company to company is leverage," says David Harmon, an attorney with Norris McLaughlin & Marcus. "Once you leave company A, your ability to negotiate different employment terms with company B is weakened, so you want to have everything in writing before you leave company A."

Brokers have been known to arrive for work at the new company and find that the terms of employment-spelled out in a stack of paperwork dropped on their desk-have been altered.

"Back in the day, it was all based on gentlemen's agreements," said Brian Hamburger, securities attorney with MarketCounsel and the Hamburger Law Firm. "They would just shake on it, which was fine when the paperwork they'd sign later reflected the original terms of the deal."

But that's not always the case these days.

"Once they've already terminated their prior employment, the clock's ticking," Hamburger said. "What're they going to do? If they don't sign it and start working, they're going to lose their clients."

Some brokers who find themselves in this situation eventually grow unhappy and try to find a way out of their contract and the job. They can try claiming they were pressured into signing and therefore shouldn't have to pay back a signing bonus. But such maneuvers typically fail.

"Unfortunately for us, a contract is a contract, and the fact that they signed it under duress isn't much of a defense," Hamburger said.

Despite the conflicts that develop between brokers and new employers, it's still unusual for the brokers to get their own lawyer for the hiring process or to insist on written and signed terms in advance.

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