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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dean Irma S. Russell, A Review of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting

RussellIrmaIrma S. Russell is Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Montana School of Law.

Kenneth Adams’ recently released third edition of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, is a hefty volume. When I opened the package containing this manual my first thought was: “Wow, this is bigger than expected.  It looks really time consuming.”  At 455 pages, the book is closer to Fowler’s than Strunk & White. It is worth the time to read it.  In fact, once you start reading, it is hard to put down.  The writing is clear and concise, the tone is engaging, and the range of usage addressed is impressive.  

This book provides far more than drafting tips. This author has considered language in a deep way and gives thoughtful and sometimes provocative assessments of the usages he endorses.  His discussion of the language of belief, the language of intention, the language of recommendation and the distinctions among the categories is notable for its logic and even philosophical assessment as well as for its authority of declaring a particular usage superior to other constructions.  (Be sure to look for his treatment of "between" and "among" in reference to multiple parties.  This discussion may also apply to my last sentence before this parenthetical.)

The manual is useful for all lawyers who draft agreements, and most do of course.  Indeed few lawyers can separate themselves from contract drafting or the need for precise language.  A plea arrangement in the criminal context is as subject to the risk of ambiguity as a lease agreement.  A tort settlement is in as great a need of careful word choice as a corporate merger.  The trap for the casual drafter can involve malpractice claims as well as disappointed expectations of clients. 

AdamsThe author’s introduction makes clear the work’s goal of providing precise and consistent language in contracts.  He endorses consistency “because differences in wording can result in unintended differences in meaning.”  He notes the necessity of a manual of style “because traditional contract language needs a thorough overhaul.”  This point underscores the need for the point-by-point treatment provided in the book.

The goals the author sets for this work are indeed as worthwhile (and as hard to achieve) in today’s world as in Fowler’s.  Creating documents with few opportunities for confusion means that the careful drafter will not need to see his words in court and the client will not need to roll the dice of litigation in arguing for his belief or assumptions about the intentions of the parties.

The book delivers on its promise to serve to help its user find "greater clarity and consistency in written usages."  Though modest in its succinct statement, this is an ambitious promise, and one that the book fulfills.  The principle of Occam's razor is at work here despite the heft of the volume.  Each discussion of a phrase or word is brief and to the point.  The length of the book results from the number and scope of the issues addressed rather than from any drawn out discussions.  More elegant contract language is the result of the guidance offered here. While Strunk & White is certainly shorter, it does not take on the range of issues Adams reaches, and I am convinced both revered authors would approve of this manual of style.  

Opening this book was a Pandora-type move for me, and now I am hooked on the author’s blog: Adams on Drafting.  You can access it here but I warn you now: You can’t read just one.  The risk for the reader opening either the book or the blog is getting caught up in the fascinating world of contract drafting.  Even after you find the answer to the specific question that sent you to the book, you may be unable to stop reading.  I’m heading back to the blog now to look for more on “between” and “among.”

[Posted, on Irma Russell's behalf, by JT]

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