I love the idea that we could create contracts that ordinary people will read, understand and use.
Verity White’s Secret of Productive Contracts is another step in the right direction. Verity’s focus is on paperless contracts to speed up the contracting process.
I was both delighted and a little bemused when I spotted her reverse contract sandwich which has exactly the same structure as a contract I designed for the Housing Improvement Agency in 2016. It was almost as if she was reading my mind!
I’m not sure if you realise how helpful restructuring a contract can be. I remember the first time a client tried to make their T&C more accessible from a design perspective and realised it did not have to be block text and boring (see image). It was a revelation and I have learnt a lot in the 5 years since I worked with Loomland.
- delays due to wet-signing (ie print, scribble on three, share, send, store)
- failing to wet-sign contracts properly
- contracts not being process-driven
- contracts living in a drawer
- lawyers fixated on black letter law not commercial reality
- need for written notices throughout contract lifecycle
- straitjacket T&C
Interestingly, almost no-one mentioned design or structure. Our focus was on reducing the sheer volume of legal nit-picking and crippling process before we added ‘kerb-appeal’. Companies like Legal Design Lab and people like Stefania Passera would disagree about the importance of structure in legal documents (and they’d be right), but we didn’t have time to change the world in one evening…
As Verity says
There’s a need for clear and simple contract structures; contracts that move easily through the contracting process and are optimised for electronic processes
One of the ideas mooted at the pif workshop was whether the future was for lawyers to write clauses, not contracts, so clients can drop in clauses to create bespoke robust contracts to suit their project needs and culture.We need plain language in its widest definition ie documents whose
wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information. [Source: International Plain Language Federation]
In the meantime, we need to rely on champions like Verity from Checklist Legal in Australia, Lynda Harris from Write Ltd in New Zealand, Ken Adams, Bryan Garner and Joe Kimble in the US, Martin Cutts and me in the UK, as well as organisations like PLAIN and Clarity to provide the impetus for change.