Ten Issues: Making Contracts Simpler to Signal


I’ve been drafting contracts for a very long time and I’ve written about them lots on this weblog, together with posts on boilerplate clauses, the best way to create a contract playbook, and the best way to learn a contract.  Trying again, I see that I’ve by no means shared my three core targets of contract drafting: 1) readability (anybody can perceive the deal); 2) get what you want vs. what you need (there’s a large distinction), and; 3) “fast” signatures (i.e., a short while body from the beginning of the method to signature).  As in-house legal professionals (or any sort of lawyer for that matter), we regularly appear to do all the pieces in our energy to undermine these targets, primarily by producing or enabling, clunky, unbalanced, unreadable, overly-long paperwork that find yourself awash in redlines from the opposite facet.  This, in flip, frustrates the enterprise (together with the legal professionals).  And it takes ceaselessly to get to signature, so everybody concerned within the course of is depressing longer.  That mentioned, I perceive that generally it can’t be helped.  Regardless of our greatest intentions, we could also be coping with a real Luddite on the opposite facet of the desk they usually merely refuse to work the contracting course of in a manner that makes it simpler for each side, i.e., discovering safety in standing agency on Latin phrases, redundant wording, and complicated sentences that require a residency at Bletchley Park to decipher.

Nonetheless, we are able to and may do higher by the enterprise with contracts.  When you agree with me that the very best and greatest worth the authorized division can present is getting good contracts performed sooner, then in-house legal professionals are seemingly not devoting sufficient time to creating their contracts simpler to signal.  Beneath are some issues I’ve used over time to attempt to right this drawback.  These are typically not for boilerplate phrases utilized in consumer-facing person agreements in your firm’s web site or for easy SaaS contracts the place a software program supplier requires that everybody sign-up for a similar factor.  Relatively, the following pointers are for business-to-business offers, the place there can be legal professionals representing each events. This version of “Ten Issues” shares my concepts for making contracts simpler to signal:

1.  Purchase this ebook.  I’m an enormous fan of Ken Adams and his weblog on contracting.[1] I’m an even bigger fan of his ebook, A Guide of Model for Contract Drafting.[2] Mr. Adams is a lifelong proponent of cleaner and clearer contract drafting and offers nearly 500 pages of examples of the best way to shed centuries of poor drafting habits legal professionals have delivered to the desk for the reason that Plantagenets dominated England. When you actually wish to learn to draft higher contracts that can meet the three targets above, learn this ebook!  On a day-to-day foundation, observe Laura Fredrick on LinkedIn the place nearly every day she posts frequent sense contract drafting ideas and options on her Easy methods to Contract web page.[3]   Equally, Bryan Garner has written a superb column for the ABA[4] for years that accommodates nice recommendations on clear authorized writing (together with publishing some wonderful books on the subject as nicely).

2.  Make your contracts balanced (from the beginning).  There may be little extra painful (for me) than to sit down down and begin to overview a contract that’s so one-sided that I burst out laughing.  However, as soon as I cease guffawing, I understand I must spend a very good chunk of time making the provisions extra balanced, adjustments the opposite facet will nearly invariably settle for.  Whereas I recognize the possibility to invoice just a few hours, this isn’t an environment friendly technique to get contracts signed.  A lot of the key phrases of a template contract (particularly the “boilerplate” sections) needs to be balanced and mutual – or as near mutual as you can also make them underneath the circumstances.  In any other case, all you might be inviting are tons of redlines making them mutual – or worse, as unbalanced provisions have a tendency to attract redlines containing equally unbalanced counter-proposals.  To keep away from this trade of ache, begin with a balanced doc.  For instance, put in truthful time durations for termination rights.  Put off 9 ranges of escalation earlier than both occasion can file a lawsuit.  Don’t exclude consequential and punitive damages simply on your facet.  In different phrases, when getting ready your templates or perhaps a bespoke contract, put your self within the footwear of the opposite facet and ask “would I signal this as is?”  If the reply is (hell) no, then you’ve got some work to do earlier than the doc goes out the door.  On the flip facet, for those who a minimum of attempt to make the contract balanced from the beginning, you will see that the time it’s important to spend messing with it goes down dramatically and signatures come a lot sooner – a lot to the glee of the gross sales group.

3.  Use plain and easy language.  Until you might be getting ready a resume to work on the summer time Shakespeare competition, lose the “Olde English” and Latin phrasing when drafting a contract.[5]  Whereas not all the time doable, attempt to write a contract like a standard particular person would write one thing.  Keep away from pointless complexity and shoot for brief sentences.  Assume like Hemingway.  Use examples to point out how complicated components of the contract work in apply (as a result of what is smart to everybody immediately will inevitably be painfully complicated three years from now and a very good instance can save the day).  And all the time ask your self if what you wrote down is obvious – may a decide or jury perceive the part if there was ever litigation?  If not, rework it.  For instance, take into consideration this assertion, “This Settlement will terminate on August 31, 2021.”  Does this imply that it terminates when the day begins?  When the day ends?  And when does the day finish? On the finish of the enterprise day, at midnight, and in what time zone?  The higher sentence is “This Settlement will terminate on August 31, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Central Time.” Be exact and concise!

4.  Stick along with your definitions.  When you undergo the trouble of making definitions for key phrases within the contract, persist with these definitions all through the contract.  I think it’s principally attributable to laziness, however don’t name it “Settlement” in part one after which “settlement” or the “contract” elsewhere.  And, outdoors of the traditional guidelines, don’t capitalize a phrase except you might be additionally offering a definition for it.  It takes a variety of time for the opposite facet to choose via your definition failures, unnecessarily slowing down the deal.

5.  Get rid of repetition.  I understand contracts might be scary, and nobody needs to “miss something.”  However writing one thing as soon as is sufficient.  You do not want to repeat the identical obligation or requirement elsewhere within the contract simply to “make sure” it’s in there.  By together with it twice, you make the opposite facet guess why they’re seeing the identical wording once more and, most probably, they are going to delete it as redundant.  Equally, there isn’t any want to make use of three phrases that imply the identical factor, e.g., “give, devise, and bequeath” all imply “give.”  Why not simply use “give?”  Equally, “indemnify and maintain innocent” imply the identical factor.  Or, my all-time favourite, “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”  If you’d like extra, Wikipedia has a protracted listing of such “doubles” and “triples” out there right here.

6.  Don’t ship a PDF.  If you’re sending a contract over to the opposite facet and asking for his or her feedback and redlines, don’t ship a PDF.  Ship a Phrase model.  Sending a PDF is like sending an enormous “Blissful Screw You Day” Hallmark card to the opposite occasion.  One of the best case is they are going to convert it to Phrase after which redline it (however the formatting will seemingly get tousled so that you’ll be coping with that as nicely).  Worst case, they are going to handwrite their edits on the PDF, scan it in, and you’ll have to cope with that large bag of enjoyable.  The most probably case?  They’ll ask you to ship them a Phrase model – which you need to have performed within the first occasion.  All of this forwards and backwards will decelerate your deal, the other of your objective.

7.  Redline all of your adjustments.  I hate to confess this as a result of it displays so poorly on our career however I now, out of behavior, create my very own redlined model of the opposite facet’s adjustments even when they’ve despatched a redline to me.  Why?  As a result of I’ve completely misplaced belief in most legal professionals to redline/present all of their adjustments.  I don’t assume it’s as a result of they’re nefariously attempting to cover one thing (however generally it’s). I believe it’s as a result of they assume it’s useful to not have a lot “crimson” within the doc – as if I can be insulted in the event that they present that I missed a interval or comma.  The issue with being so beneficiant is that if I discover one change that was not within the redline, I now have zero religion that the entire necessary adjustments are redlined.  Coping with this provides to the size of time it’s going to take to get the deal performed and creates a normal degree of mistrust that’s not conducive to working collectively to get the deal over the road.  When you change one thing, redline it.  Interval.  You’ll be able to all the time put a observe in your cowl e-mail noting that you just “apologize” for all of the redlining however you felt it higher to err on the facet of displaying each change.  Additionally, for those who see that your redlines are displaying up as the identical colour as these from the opposite facet, change the colour of your monitor adjustments in Phrase so it’s clear who’s altering what.

8.  Preserve adjustments to a minimal.  Someplace deep within the Magna Carta is an admonishment from the English barons that resonates immediately: “Redlines beget redlines. Ye shall stoppeth.”  Okay, perhaps that’s not really within the Magna Carta (or it simply bought edited out in some unspecified time in the future), however it’s true.  If you wish to get a contract off your desk and signed, cease making each little change that comes into your head.  Don’t change phrases over “phrase selection” points.  Don’t add or delete punctuation that doesn’t matter.  If the way in which a clause is written works for the deal, go away it alone even for those who may make it “higher” with a very good edit.  Who cares?  Concede it and transfer on.  If the supply is obvious sufficient, let it alone!  The one greatest delay in contract execution is the trade of redlines.  Do all the pieces you’ll be able to to maintain redlines to a minimal and solely revise or add issues that really matter to the deal.

9.  Clarify your self.  In case you have simply made a fabric change in a doc or added a completely new part, use the Phrase remark characteristic to imbed a observe within the doc explaining what you’ve got performed and why.  If I get a contract again with totally new sections or a considerable rewrite of one thing I wrote, it’s troublesome for me to know if I can settle for it with none clarification of what the change is designed to do and/or why it’s wanted.  I’ll both mark it up based mostly on what I assume you imply or I’ll attempt to schedule a name with you to debate it.  Neither of which is an environment friendly use of time if both may very well be prevented just by including an explanatory remark.  And, even for those who do insert such a remark, be ready to defend your place in a peaceful, rational manner if it comes up throughout a negotiating session.

10.  Assessment your contract templates recurrently.  Yearly, the authorized group and the gross sales group ought to sit down collectively to stroll via the entire present contract templates.  The aim is to debate what points have come up that will give the corporate cause to vary the templates.  The general objective is to constantly make the corporate‘s contracts simpler to signal.  This implies a frank dialogue about what wording, clauses, conduct, or no matter, has slowed the corporate’s contracting course of down?  An everyday effort to work at addressing any issues will get contracts to stream sooner and extra easily.  As a part of this yearly contract health-check course of, attempt to see what your organization’s opponents are doing with their contracts (assuming you’ll be able to correctly receive a replica of their contracts).  See how they deal with sure points and whether or not your contract’s boilerplate is in step with their contract boilerplate, e.g., the kinds of limits or caps they use, guarantee language and disclaimers, indemnities, cost phrases, and so forth.  Not solely will you get perception into “what’s market” however it may well help you in coping with claims from the gross sales group that your opponents’ contracts are “simpler” to signal than ours.  Both it’s not true or, if a competitor’s settlement is in reality “simpler” in some materials manner, you’ll be able to undertake any of their language that in any other case is smart to take action.  Moreover, when you have an understanding of your opponents’ contracts you’ll be able to (politely) refute/cope with a widely known chorus from the opposite facet in contract negotiations, i.e.,  “Effectively, your opponents have agreed to this language.”


There are actually extra methods to hurry up the contract course of.  For instance, don’t make it private and to disregard the antics of the opposite facet in the event that they attempt to make it so.  However I’m restricted to 10 (rattling you overly restrictive weblog title!).  However, when you have any ideas you wish to share with different readers, please put these within the feedback part or in a response on LinkedIn.  Given the significance of contracts to the corporate, I assure you that if the authorized division is proactively in search of methods to make the contract course of go sooner (and is reporting on these concepts and actions to the enterprise/senior administration by way of KPIs and business-savvy displays[6]), the enterprise will see these actions as an enormous worth add by the division.  The above is an effective way to begin this course of.

Sterling Miller

June 30, 2021

My fifth ebook (displaying the worth of the authorized division) is off to the writer this week.  Lastly!  It needs to be out later this 12 months. I’ll maintain you posted.  Two of my books, Ten Issues You Must Know as In-Home Counsel – Sensible Recommendation and Profitable Methods and Ten (Extra) Issues You Must Know as In-Home Counsel – Sensible Recommendation and Profitable Methods Quantity 2, are on sale on the ABA web site (together with as e-books).  Because the ABA says, “When you ever wish to see your loved ones once more, purchase the rattling books!” Belief me.  Don’t mess with the ABA!


I’ve revealed two different books: The Evolution of Skilled Soccer, and The Gradual-Cooker Savant.  I’m additionally out there for talking engagements, teaching, coaching, and consulting.

Join with me on Twitter @10ThingsLegal and on LinkedIn the place I put up articles and tales of curiosity to in-house counsel ceaselessly.  

“Ten Issues” will not be authorized recommendation nor authorized opinion and represents my views solely.  It’s supposed to supply sensible ideas and references to the busy in-house practitioner and different readers.  In case you have questions or feedback, concepts for a put up, please contact me at sterling.miller@sbcglobal.internet or, if you want a CLE on your group on this or any matter within the weblog, contact me at smiller@hilgersgraben.com.

[1] www.adamsdrafting.com/weblog.

[2] Ok. Adams, A Guide of Model for Contract Drafting (4th Ed.), (ABA Publishing, Chicago, 2017).

[3] See, e.g., her put up from June 28, 2021, at https://www.linkedin.com/posts/laurafredericklaw_howtocontract-lawyers-contracts-activity-6815254225614966784-cvfa.

[4] https://www.lawprose.org/bryan-garner/articles-by-bryan-a-garner/.

[5] Take a look at my put up on Writing Expertise for In-Home Attorneys which acknowledges that writing as an in-house lawyer may be very totally different than writing as an out of doors counsel.

[6] See my put up on Presenting Authorized Points to Senior Executives for extra.


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