If you are wondering how something can be both a cliché and a big new idea, I’ll concede that is a good question. Bear with me.
Since 2013, Law Practice Magazine has featured its “Big Ideas” themed issue in July. I was the issue editor on the first issue and, since then, that has been my favorite issue of the magazine. The July/August 2016 “Big Ideas” issue of Law Practice Magazine has been posted. As always, it contains some coverage of some interesting and cutting edge topics in law practice management. If you enjoy this type of content, you can join the ABA Law Practice Division if you are an ABA member or subscribe to the electronic version of the magazine via the free app if you are not.
But today I want to talk about my “Big Idea,” which is definitely something that has been discussed in legal circles for some time: how we can improve legal documents?
How do we avoid the trap of a longer document always being viewed as a better document? In my column, Shall We Cut to the Chase?, I ask some questions about our legal documents today. Not only is 20 page legal document more expensive to produce than a 10 page one, but it is also more expensive to consume, whether it is being read by another attorney billing for the time or a corporate executive or general counsel who also has other tasks to accomplish.
As I noted in the column, I was assigned to review a contract with a major technology company. As is common, the first several pages contained the identification of the parties and many, many definitions. I was already tiring before I got to the operative pages of the agreement.
So why would it not be a good idea to put all of the definitions in the final pages of the contract? One could include a provision at the beginning that many of the terms used in the contract are defined in section 10 or a very cautious draftsman could include a list of all the terms that were later defined in section 10 in one long sentence. It seems equally logical to review the language of any needed definitions after the substance of the contract has been absorbed as it does to place the definitions all at the beginning.
Why wouldn’t the law firm associate with a talent of summarizing any legal memorandum in two or three paragraphs be more highly prized than one who could easily crank out a fifty page memo on any obscure topic?
I also think that standardization of many types of industry related contracts could be a great thing for law firm clients. I note some experimentation by the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) in this area.
We lawyers have been trained that a legal document should cover almost every conceivable possibility. Going forward that should continue to be true with an added goal of doing so “as concisely as possible.” To end with another cliché, time is money, particularly in the legal profession.