To paraphrase William Shakespeare (the Bard):
“If contracts be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess clauses that, surfeiting,
The appetite for jargon may sicken and so die.
That Latin phrase, it had a dying fall…
O contract spirit, how mean-spirited art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy word-smithery
Is as wide as the sea, no understanding enters there…
Thy contracts are so full of words and termsa-fancy
That all alone are high fantastical.”
Let me translate: why do we create contracts so full of nonsense terms and legal word-smithery that they become fantastical creatures rather than tools to help us do business?
In 2018 I revised a suite of contracts for The Federation of Master Builders, the UK’s largest construction trade association. Their suite were crystal-marked by the Plain English campaign, but were not very user-friendly for either the builder or their clients.
For example one ‘simple’ contract for home-owners:
- uses legal jargon for a contract between a builder and a home-owner (generally non-lawyers)
- requires text inserting or text options deleting (and counter-signing) in 50+ places across 15 pages
- has a page definitions and two pages of explanations, as well as
- a checklist in 6 font on how to complete the contract.
And – despite all that – the contract itself neither described nor summarised the works being carried out.
If you want to create user-friendly contracts which actively help home-owners to meet their goals (such as spending their life savings improving their home), you need to put yourself into the shoes of the home-owner. Focus on explaining what they really need to know.
What should you do?
Remember who you are writing your contract for and design it to make them want to read, understand and then use it.