One Kind of Fix for Overreliance on a Comma

It's a bad idea to draft a provision so that its meaning changes significantly when you remove a comma. For one thing, commas have a way of disappearing in the course of revisions. And if a party is disgruntled enough, it might not be inclined to let a pesky little comma block its march to the courthouse. More prosaically, avoiding overreliance on commas can make life easier for the reader. I … [Read more...]

Can Contracts Be Counterproductive?

Without any editorializing by me, here's an extract from this article by Sathnam Sanghera in the Times Online: On the one hand, written agreements protect parties if things go wrong and provide a useful framework for engagement. But, on the other, drafting contracts slows business down—something Stephen Covey emphasises in The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, with the words: … [Read more...]

“Closing”

[Updated 12:05 p.m. EST Feb. 24, 2010] Three variations on a closing theme: Does "Closing" Refer to a Process or a Moment in Time? Does closing mean the moment a transaction is consummated? Or does it refer to the process leading up to that moment, with contracts being finalized and signed, opinions being issued, and funds being sent whizzing through the banking system? I suggest that it … [Read more...]

A Reminder that Contracts Under Seal Are, Sadly, Still Relevant

In this January 2008 blog post I noted that the requirements for what constitutes a "contract under seal" have been relaxed to the point of ludicrousness. But I also noted that in some states whether a contract is under seal has a bearing on which statute of limitations applies. From @Richards1000's prolific Twitter outpouring I learned today of this post by the Delaware Corporate and … [Read more...]

New Article on the Ethics of Contract Drafting

Thanks to the Legal Writing Prof Blog, I learned of an article entitled "The Ethics of Contract Drafting." It's by Gregory M. Duhl, associate professor at William Mitchell College of Law. It will be appearing in the Lewis & Clark Law Review, but for those who can't wait, it's available on SSRN by clicking here. Here's the abstract: This Article provides the first comprehensive discussion of … [Read more...]

More “Or” Ambiguity

One of the chapters of MSCD that I sweated most over was chapter 10, "Ambiguity of the Part Versus the Whole." Here's the first paragraph: Use of plural nouns and the words and, or, every, each, and any can result in ambiguity. In each case, the question is whether it is a single member of a group of two or more that's being referred to, or the entire group, so this manual uses the phrase "the … [Read more...]

Excluding Consequential Damages Is a Bad Idea

[For a follow-up to this post, see this March 2, 2010 blog post.] I have in front of me a contract—it's for the sale of goods—that contains the following provision excluding certain kinds of damages: Neither party will be responsible or held liable for any consequential, special, or incidental losses or damages. You can rely on sellers asking for this kind of provision, and buyers routinely … [Read more...]

“Specific”

When it occurs in contracts (apart from its use in the phrase specific performance), more often than not the word specific serves no purpose. Consider the following examples, which I harvested at random from the SEC's EDGAR system: Within 60 days following such request for a review, the Plan Administrator will, after providing a full and fair review, render his final decision in writing to the … [Read more...]

Business Integrity Launches ContractExpress.com: Q&A with Andy Wishart, CTO of Business Integrity

Longtime readers of this site will be familiar with the name Business Integrity, developer of ContractExpress (formerly DealBuilder) document-assembly software. Fixing contract drafting involves fixing not only language but also process, and fixing the process means using document assembly. So I’ve long had a keen interest in document assembly. About three years ago I became acquainted with … [Read more...]

Update Regarding “Fraud” and “Intentional Misrepresentation”: Let’s Get Rid of Them!

Here are some follow-up thoughts prompted by reader Chad's comment to my recent post on use of the couplet fraud or intentional misrepresentation in indemnification provisions. Chad suggested that although fraud includes intentional misrepresentation, at least three state courts have treated the terms fraud and intentional misrepresentation as synonyms. That doesn't worry me, because if you use … [Read more...]

General Writing or Contract Drafting: Which Is More Demanding?

Today I came upon yet another article exploring law students' lack of basic writing skills: Aïda M. Alaka, The Grammar Wars Come to Law School, 59 J. Legal Educ. 343 (2010). (Click here to go to a pdf copy.) Professor Alaka notes that "many, if not most, legal writing instructors have been surprised by the sometimes astounding lack of basic writing skills exhibited by a few of their students." … [Read more...]

“Fraud” and “Intentional Misrepresentation”

The other day a law-firm partner who specializes in M&A called me to discuss the terms fraud and intentional misrepresentation. He noted that it's commonplace for both terms to be used in specifying exceptions to limits on indemnification. Here's the sort of provision he was referring to (I haven't attempted to clean it up): Notwithstanding the above, the Basket and Cap shall not apply to … [Read more...]

ECC Capital Corp. Sues Law Firms for Contract-Drafting Malpractice

The following is from this article by Drew Combs on the AmLaw Daily: Latham & Watkins and Manatt Phelps & Phillips are the targets of a malpractice lawsuit filed by ECC Capital Corp., which accuses the firms of botching a deal to sell its mortgage-origination business and a subprime-loan portfolio to Bear Stearns & Co. ... In the suit--filed on Friday in Los Angeles Superior … [Read more...]

LTN Article on the Hidden Perils of Boilerplate

On the Law Technology News website is "The Law of Unintended E-Consequences," an interesting article by Stanley P. Jaskiewicz, a member of the Philadelphia law firm of Spector Gadon & Rosen. It discusses how boilerplate that is easily skimmed over can end up acquiring unexpected significance. The article mentions me, but that's not how it came to my attention. Honest. … [Read more...]

“Proprietary”

This from reader Chris Lemens: This bugs me. I see a lot of nondisclosure agreements. A typical definition of the information protected by such an agreement includes a notion that the information is "confidential or proprietary." The "proprietary" part just seems wrong to me. So what if the information is owned as property? A company's website is owned as property, but it shouldn't be protected … [Read more...]

Kicking the Tires of WestlawNext

Last week I was at West’s headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota, with a dozen or so journalists and bloggers, attending a series of presentations on WestlawNext, the next generation of Westlaw. After some five years of development, it's being launched today. Others who were in Eagan with me have already offered their thoughts on WestlawNext. I now do so. And I do so even though transactional lawyers … [Read more...]