We have never met anyone without a legal background who enjoys working with contracts

So starts a 2013 paper by Stefania Passera and Helena Haapio which rues the fact that contracts have become stuff for lawyers rather than as a framework for successful deals and the relationships between a supply network.

The authors summarise why contracts are primarily seen as a set of legal rules:

  • contract writers do not see themselves as communicators – the focus is on producing ‘legally sound and predictable content
  • contract writer optimise contracts for use in court and so structure them peculiarly as well as using language that non-experts find overly complicated and hard to understand
  • contract writers do not consider how to help users who want to avoid conflicts or disputes
  • contracts are not designed to engage with their readers (and are not easy to understand, read, or use)
  • contract writers do not think about contract users who lack legal background nor that they need to achieve a specific task in a given context
  • contract writers pay no attention to the structure of their contract or providing salient information that users need to find and use.

What should you do?

If you write contracts, you need to understand how the information in your contracts should best be communicated, and how people interact and interpret that information. You need to understand what is now called legal design – to understand contract patterns, to empathise with the user, and to understand how the contract will be used.

We simply cannot keep on churning out contracts written by lawyers for lawyers.

We need user-centred contracts.

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