Recently on twitter, plain language expert Dominique Joseph (@clearerworld), Tim Cummins (@tcummins from the IACCM), Ken Adams (@KonciseD) watched closely by Stefania Passera (@StewieKee) asking who was doing a good job of making contracts more user-friendly?
Initially, we got side-tracked because Dom had framed her question to ask who was making them more user-friendly for ‘regular people (non-lawyers and non-contract-drafters)’ but Ken quickly pointed out that ‘the lawyers are bamboozled too!’
Ken recommends you need a set of rigorous guidelines aka ‘buy my book’, His Manual of Style of Contract Drafting is nearly 600 pages long and costs over $100. Whilst a worthy tome it focuses on one particular style of legal contract writing. He does not believe in improvising, but following his evidence-based approach to justify the choice of one legal phrase over a worse one. Ken neither has a background nor eschews an interest in contracts for the woman and her kids on the Clapham omnibus.
Tim points out that clearer contracts have focused on content design, design and graphics (or icons), some on automation. The IACCM is the international organisation for contract and commercial management and is creating contract drafting principles. But none of the examples are relevant for your everyday transactions or consumer contracts. This is big business stuff.
In Stefania Passera’s thesis she says:
At minimum, the ‘contract puzzle’ needs technical knowledge of the solution, contextual knowledge of the customer’s needs, knowledge on how to perform and deliver what is promised, business and financial knowledge to make sure the deal is beneficial, legal and risk management knowledge to avoid trouble, as well as contract management and project management knowledge as a glue to keep it all together…[my emphasis]
Of course, for the simple transaction of buying a decaffeinated espresso, perhaps this team of people is slightly sledge-hammer to crack a coffee bean?
But for many transactions including consumer contracts like those relating to health or insurance we need a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach. Dom was involved in revising insurance terms which required 2 writers, a lawyer and an actuary. I am involved in revising a suite of construction contracts (including those to be used with and by consumers) for a UK construction trade association, Agreeing the content has involved users, complaints managers, directors and a contract writer – with the final format involving an information designer and digital expert. I have not relied on Ken’s manual because the choice between ‘indemnify’ and ‘hold harmless’ (for example) is irrelevant in a consumer contract – I am not using those sort of legal terms at all!
We need clear writing, legal accuracy, information design, accessibility and usability and testing. That means we need more than one person’s voice to be heard to create content that works for the users.