If Not “Master Services Agreement,” What?

Generally, action is better than gestures. But gestures can lead to action, so I’m amenable to gestures.

For example, perhaps ten years ago I was surprised to have a training participant suggest that I not use guys when addressing the men and women in the group. At first I wasn’t convinced, but now, no guys.

Similarly, in the past few years, eliminating master-slave terminology has become a thing. I gather it started in technology, but it has migrated to law. Specifically, I’ve encountered organizations that have eliminated the master in master services agreement. Go here for a LinkedIn article about that. It’s not a matter of being “politically correct,” but of doing right by people, in word and, ideally, in deed.

But what do we call that kind of contract, if not master services agreement? One of my clients has changed the title of their MSA to main services agreement, so as to preserve the M in MSA. If keeping the initials MSA isn’t a priority, what title should we use? Or is changing the title too much of a nuisance, even if one has the best of intentions?

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

10 thoughts on “If Not “Master Services Agreement,” What?”

  1. Given the nature of our business, we have started to use “subcontract” or “task order subcontract.” We’re not in tech, which helps with “TOS” confusion.

  2. We favor the use of the word “Master” in our agreements, so they are called “Master Work Agreements.” I once wondered why we use “Work” instead of “Service,” but I now think “Work” is more appropriate.

    My company is not that sensitive to the “Master/Slave” conversation, nor do our suppliers say anything about it.

  3. Ken:

    What’s wrong with just “Services Agreement”? Whether you can attach additional increments of services to it is really about the structure, not the title. And I’ve seen purportedly “master” agreements that didn’t make that easy at all.


    • If you’re the service provider and the limitation of your liability is a multiple of the “contract price,” then you’d want to be sure that the “contract price” didn’t increase every time you added a new statement of work.

      (Solutions: Have each statement of work be a separate contract that incorporates the framework agreement by reference; OR have the limitation of liability be a multiple of the price of the statement of work.)

  4. F.Y.I. In Hungary and in many other CEE countries it is in fact called (and translated into English as) Framework Agreement.

  5. Depending on the context, it could be a Framework Agreement or an Umbrella Agreement or a Common Terms Agreement or a Call Off Agreement. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

  6. Here on the US Gulf Coast in the offshore oilfield-service industry, we use MSAs extensively. “Blanket” is the most common alternative to “Master” in the title of such agreements.

  7. thanks for this conversation – I’ve been trying to come up with an alternative to master, I appreciate the suggestions below and the comments that this might be a hollow gesture. yes we need to do more but if it’s easy enough to change the name, that also gives you a reason to bring it up with people you’re interacting with on the contract so in a small way you’re spreading awareness of (a) the harm of using slavery laden language and (b) the fact that our society here in the US still has a lot of other work to do, to eliminate the impact of enslavement that still persists along with our other structural and institutional racist policies. thanks for covering this topic!


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