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Contracts: Just A Bad Joke?

September 26, 2013

There is a spoof contract going around, creating a lot of amusement on the web. It illustrates the way many people feel about contracts – unusable, bureaucratic and best ignored (at least until something goes wrong).

The ‘contract’ in question (access here) pretends to be page 46 of Apple’s on-line terms and conditions – the ones we never read (what is the point?) and simply click ‘I accept’ to reach the next page. While amusing to read, there is also a serious point to be made. That is, if contracts actually have a purpose as business instruments, we should be concerned that they are frequently viewed by anyone who is not a contract afficianado as something to either be ignored or ridiculed. For those who make a living out of contracts, surely we should aspire to something better.

“Better’ in this context means that we ought to re-think the design and ‘ease of use’ of contracts. We should be thinking about the audience for whom they are intended – that is, consumers and users of products or services. Of course, if our intent is to be unfair and to abuse our power, I guess it makes sense to produce obscure, unintelligible agreements that will only make sense in the hands of lawyers. But if we respect the people we are dealing with and actually hope for compliance with the terms, it is ridiculous to produce documents that have little practical application.

This spoof is timely because is coincides with IACCM’s introduction of a new Contract Design Award. To encourage useable contracts, IACCM has established a panel of experts from the world of design, simplification and proactive law to offer an evaluation and accreditation service for organizations that wish to avoid the stereotypical view of contracts and to produce documents that people can use, understand and apply.

In today’s complex world, surely it is time that we tackled that complexity by producing better forms of agreement – and avoid having our contracts viewed as ‘a bit of a joke’.

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