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Contracts should be like a Mac or iPhone

I’ve been very impressed with the ease of use of my new iPhone 3GS. A related comment by CNet columnist Matt Assay made me think that contracts should likewise be so easy for non-lawyers to use:

… Apple product [are] made for normal people who generally don’t obsess about technology. For all the beauty of its designs, the real reason Apple succeeds is simplicity. Apple takes complex technologies and makes them easy to use.

Normal people can use Apple technologies without ever opening a manual.

What’s amazing is that Apple manages to do this from the heart of Silicon Valley, a place that lives and breathes technology and, hence, conveniently forgets that approximately no other human beings on the planet share this character trait.

Similarly, we contract lawyers live and breathe contract language, but for clients’ benefit we should “take complex [contract concepts] and make them easy to use.” It’s more work, but Apple has shown that this extra work can pay off.

In an ideal world, we’d write contracts so that “normal people can use [them] without ever opening the manual.”

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous 2010-02-16, 15:53

    Isn’t that like saying we should write contracts in simpler French so English-speaking people can read them? It’s a specialized language where terms of art are used, not words in their ordinary meaning.

    • D. C. Toedt 2010-02-16, 16:23

      I take your point, but many legal terms of art in contracts can be expressed in plain English. Just the other day I caught myself writing “mutatis mutandis” in a contract draft, and made myself change it to “any necessary changes being made.”

  • aquariumdrinker 2010-02-16, 16:58

    I take your point (that a good contract should “just work”, the way Apple has advertised that their products “just work”), and I agree with it. I’m thinking, though, that Apple may not be the best example. Or, rather, while I think it fair to say that a good contract should make the client feel about you and your product the way Apple’s branding sets out to make me feel about Apple. It’s just that things break down after that.

    I’m probably belaboring the metaphor, but Apple’s software (and we’re talking software here, I think; I’ve never heard anyone complain that the paper I’m printing my contracts on is not expensive or shiny enough)… um, Apple’s software famously makes decisions for its users that may or may not be what the user wants. Like iPhone users don’t need an option to buy a model with a physical keyboard. Or, for a long time, iPhone users don’t need cut and paste. Or iPhone users don’t need to be able to install applications from third party sources. That’s some pretty fundamental stuff, like deciding for your client (without consultation or willingness to bend) that their supply agreements don’t need incidental damages limitations.

    Android may offer a better metaphor for good contract drafting. It is highly configurable (at least on the ‘Google experience’ phones), rather than one size fits all. But much more importantly, it is an ongoing open source endeavor, which is improved through iteration (which I’d analogize to negotiation). It’s the opposite of “here’s my client’s draft; it’s perfect for this transaction, so just send back signature pages because we won’t be considering revisions”.

    Also: “normal people”? I’m not sure Apple’s demographic is all that representative.

    I really love this blog, by the way.

  • D. C. Toedt 2010-02-16, 17:12

    AquariumDrinker [#3], we’re in violent agreement that lawyers shouldn’t do the equivalent of Apple’s deciding that iPhone users didn’t need cut and paste.

    Thanks for commenting, and for the kind words.

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