The UT System Administration Contract Office Goes All-In

[Updated June 30, 2015: Here’s an update from Blake:

In our job search, we stated that knowledge of MSCD was a “preferred qualification.” Out of dozens of qualified applicants, we narrowed the pool to four people. We gave all four candidates a “homework” assignment of drafting a contract in accordance with MSCD. (We assigned the candidates random numbers and graded their submissions “blind.”) Requiring the candidates to use MSCD when drafting a contract was a great idea. We were able to identify the most talented candidate quickly. Knowledge of MSCD is very important to our office because we use MSCD as our drafting standard, and I believe that being familiar with MSCD will help the candidate catch on much faster.

I’ll be using this process every time we hire someone who will be involved in contracts.]

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Through Blake Reagan, aka The Hardest-Working Man in the Contracts-Administration Business, I recently did a “Drafting Clearer Contracts” seminar for the University of Tennessee’s UT System Administration Contract Office, one of multiple procurement offices in the UT System, with people from other UT contracts and purchasing offices taking part as well.

Well, the other shoe has dropped. Three of them, actually. (Wait, four shoes?)

First, the UT System Administration Contract Office is adopting a statement of style stipulating that their contracts are to be drafted and reviewed consistent with A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting. Their statement of style is based on my model (here).

Second, they’re redoing their templates: a style guide works only if your people have access to an inventory of contract language that complies with the style guide.

And third, they’re looking for a contracts administrator, and the job posting (here) specifies that knowledge of drafting in standard English is required, “particularly in accordance with A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting.”

Any system has to have standards, but in traditional contract drafting there are no real standards, just copying of dysfunctional language bolstered by dog-eared conventional wisdom. MSCD is the only set of standards around, and if you want a set of standards, it’s best to adopt it in a broad-based way. Using a style guide, providing training, redoing your templates, and hiring people who are sympathetic to your approach is a great start.

I don’t suppose this development will have traditionalists in corporate America quaking in their boots. And it involves just one part of the UT system. But rationality has to start somewhere, and the UT System Administration Contract Office is as good a place as any.

By the way, go here to see UT’s announcement that Blake has received the Young Professional in Procurement Award from the National Association of Educational Procurement.

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.