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Full-Text Articles in Law

Contractual Landmines, Robert E. Scott, Stephen J. Choi, Mitu Gulati Jan 2024

Contractual Landmines, Robert E. Scott, Stephen J. Choi, Mitu Gulati

Faculty Scholarship

Conventional wisdom is that the standardized boilerplate terms used in large commercial markets survive unchanged because they are an optimal solution to the contracting problems facing parties in these markets. As Smith and Warner explained, “harmful heuristics, like harmful mutations, will die out.” But an examination of a sample of current sovereign bond contracts reveals numerous instances of harmful landmines — some are deliberate changes to standard language that increase a creditor’s nonpayment risk, others are blatant drafting errors, and yet others are inapt terms that have been carelessly imported from corporate transactions. Moreover, these landmines differ from each other …


Debunking The Efficacy Of Standard Contract Boilerplate: Part Iv, David Spratt Apr 2022

Debunking The Efficacy Of Standard Contract Boilerplate: Part Iv, David Spratt

Articles in Law Reviews & Other Academic Journals

We have belabored the archaic and prohibited use of "said" as a synonym for "the." But this paragraph needs more work. First, the phrase "irrespective of the fact that" is wordy and could be replaced with the plain language alternative of "even though." Second, "one or more of the parties now is, or may become, a resident of a different state" also could be streamlined. The phrase is easy enough to understand but cut to the chase. Replacing this phrase with "either party now or later resides in a different state" does the trick.


Contract Schemas, Roseanna Sommers Oct 2021

Contract Schemas, Roseanna Sommers

Articles

This review draws on the notion of “contract schemas” to characterize what ordinary people think is happening when they enter into contractual arrangements. It proposes that contracts are schematically represented as written documents filled with impenetrable text containing hidden strings, which are routinely signed without comprehension. This cognitive template, activated whenever people encounter objects with these characteristic features, confers certain default assumptions, associations, and expectancies. A review of the literature suggests that contract schemas supply (a) the assumption that terms will be enforced as written, (b) the feeling that one is obligated to perform, and (c) the sense that one …


Improve Recitals And Consideration Clauses With Plain Language, David Spratt Apr 2021

Improve Recitals And Consideration Clauses With Plain Language, David Spratt

Articles in Law Reviews & Other Academic Journals

As used in a "WHEREAS" clause, the term "whereas" simply means "considering that" or "that being the case." There is no legal effect to the word "whereas." It, like many other words used in standard contract boilerplate, is left over from some long-forgotten era of legal writing when lawyers used big words and legalese to impress clients with their intelligence and to justify their bills. These times have (or at least should have) passed. Today, documents must be accessible to those who use them: in most cases the clients for whom such documents are drafted.


Investigating The Contract Production Process, Stephen J. Choi, Robert E. Scott, G. Mitu Gulati Jan 2021

Investigating The Contract Production Process, Stephen J. Choi, Robert E. Scott, G. Mitu Gulati

Faculty Scholarship

Contract law and theory have traditionally paid little attention to the processes by which contracts are made. Instead, contracts among sophisticated parties are assumed to be full articulations of the desires of the parties; whatever the process, the outcome is the same. This article compares sovereign debt contracts from US and UK firms, with different production processes, that are trying to do the same thing under very similar legal regimes. We find that that the production process likely matters quite a bit to the final form that contracts take.


Debunking The Efficacy Of Standard Contract Boilerplate: Part I, David Spratt Oct 2020

Debunking The Efficacy Of Standard Contract Boilerplate: Part I, David Spratt

Articles in Law Reviews & Other Academic Journals

Many contracts start with an introductory paragraph like this one: THIS AGREEMENT is made and entered into said 5th day of June, 2020, by and between JOHN JONES (hereinafter referred to as "Jones") and MARY SMITH (hereafter referred to as "Smith"), hereinafter referred to together as "the parties." Where do I find my red pen? There are so many problems with this introduction, I might run out of ink.


Contractual Arbitrage, Stephen J. Choi, G. Mitu Gulati, Robert E. Scott Jan 2020

Contractual Arbitrage, Stephen J. Choi, G. Mitu Gulati, Robert E. Scott

Faculty Scholarship

Standard-form contracts are likely to be incomplete because they are not tailored to the needs of particular deals. In an attempt to reduce incompleteness, standard-form contracts often contain clauses with vague or ambiguous terms. Terms with indeterminate meaning present opportunities for strategic behavior well after a contract has been executed. This linguistic uncertainty in standard-form commercial contracts creates an opportunity for “contractual arbitrage”: parties may argue ex post that the uncertainties in expression mean something that the contracting parties did not contemplate ex ante. This chapter argues that the scope for contractual arbitrage is a direct function of the techniques …


Innovation Versus Encrustation: Agency Costs In Contract Reproduction, Stephen J. Choi, Mitu Gulati, Robert E. Scott Jan 2020

Innovation Versus Encrustation: Agency Costs In Contract Reproduction, Stephen J. Choi, Mitu Gulati, Robert E. Scott

Faculty Scholarship

This article studies the impact of exogenous legal change on whether and how lawyers across four different deal types revise their contracts’ governing law clauses in order to solve the problem that the legal change created. The governing law clause is present in practically every contract across a wide range of industries and, in particular, it appears in deals as disparate as private equity M&A transactions and sovereign bond issuances. Properly drafted, the clause increases the ex ante economic value of the contract to both parties by reducing uncertainty and litigation risk. We posit that different levels of agency costs …


Contractual Communication, Lawrence B. Solum Nov 2019

Contractual Communication, Lawrence B. Solum

Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works

In this Response, I will investigate the foundations of both shared and unshared meaning in legal communication. Part I takes a step back from contractual communication and offers a preliminary sketch of a general model of legal communication; the sketch draws on speech act theory and the work of Paul Grice, extending and modifying many of the insights developed by Kar and Radin. Part II turns to contractual communication, differentiating distinct “situations of contractual communication” and interrogating Kar and Radin’s Shared Meaning Analysis. Part III interrogates Kar and Radin’s distinction between “contract” and “pseudo-contract.” The conclusion of the Response briefly …


One-Legged Contracting, Ian Ayres, Gregory Klass Nov 2019

One-Legged Contracting, Ian Ayres, Gregory Klass

Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works

This response to Robin Bradley Kar & Margaret Jane Radin, Pseudo-Contract and Shared Meaning Analysis, 132 Harv. L. Rev. 1135 (2019), makes three broad points. It criticizes as arbitrary and essentializing Kar and Radin’s insistence of shared meaning as the core of contracting. It argues that even if shared meaning were the sine qua non of contracting, their proposal fails to achieve it because it does not assure that the terms would be cooperatively communicated. And it argues that their proposed enforcement standard would in practice severely limit freedom of contract and likely reduce consumer welfare. There is a …


Boilerplate And Party Intent, Gregory Klass Jan 2019

Boilerplate And Party Intent, Gregory Klass

Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works

It is commonly recognized that parties often do not read or understand contract boilerplate they agree to, and that such parties might not intend all the terms in it. Less often noticed are decisions that favor boilerplate over evidence of the parties’ contrary intent for the very reason that it is boilerplate. This article discusses that phenomenon. It identifies decisions in which courts favor boilerplate terms over other evidence the parties’ intent because it is boilerplate, discusses the rules that explain those outcomes, and examines the reasons behind the rules.

A contractual writing, whether individually negotiated and drafted or boilerplate, …


Boilerplate’S False Dichotomy, James Gibson Jan 2018

Boilerplate’S False Dichotomy, James Gibson

Law Faculty Publications

The argument against enforcing boilerplate contracts (contracts that no one reads) seems clear. Indeed, if this were a court case we would say that the jury is in; the evidence against boilerplate is overwhelming. Yet the judge has yet to render judgment. Courts continue to enforce boilerplate terms, and even those scholars who have exposed boilerplate as an emperor with no clothes are reluctant to gaze upon its nakedness and condemn its use.

This reluctance originates in an assumption that pervades the boilerplate debate—namely, that courts and commentators alike view boilerplate as necessary to the modern transaction. When asked to …


The Importance Of Being Standard, Anna Gelpern Jan 2017

The Importance Of Being Standard, Anna Gelpern

Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works

Contract standardisation in the sovereign debt market saves time and money in preparing documents and endows widely-used terms with a shared public meaning, which in turn saves investors the costs of acquiring information, facilitates secondary market trading and reduces the scope for mistakes in the judicial interpretation of contract terms. Sovereign debt issuers and investors claim to value standardisation and list it as an important contractual objective. Issuers generally insist that their bond contracts are standard and reflect market practice. Variations from past practice and market norm must be explained in disclosure documents and through market outreach. Standardisation is not …


The Black Hole Problem In Commercial Boilerplate, Stephen J. Choi, G. Mitu Gulati, Robert E. Scott Jan 2017

The Black Hole Problem In Commercial Boilerplate, Stephen J. Choi, G. Mitu Gulati, Robert E. Scott

Faculty Scholarship

Rote use of a standard form contract term can erode its meaning, a phenomenon made worse when the process of encrustation introduces various formulations of the term. The foregoing process, when it occurs, weakens the communicative properties of boilerplate terms, leading some terms to lose much, if not all, meaning. In theory, if a clause is completely emptied of meaning through this process it can create a contractual “black hole.” The more frequent and thus potentially more pervasive problem arises when, as the term loses meaning, random variations in language appear and persist, resulting in what we term a “grey …


Variation In Boilerplate: Rational Design Or Random Mutation?, Stephen J. Choi, G. Mitu Gulati, Robert E. Scott Jan 2016

Variation In Boilerplate: Rational Design Or Random Mutation?, Stephen J. Choi, G. Mitu Gulati, Robert E. Scott

Faculty Scholarship

Standard contract doctrine presumes that sophisticated parties choose their terminology carefully because they want courts or counterparts to understand what they intended. The implication of this “Rational Design” model of rational behavior is that courts should pay careful attention to the precise phrasing of contracts. Using a study of the sovereign bond market, we examine the Rational Design model as applied to standard-form contracting. In NML v. Argentina, federal courts in New York attached importance to the precise phrasing of the boilerplate contracts at issue. The industry promptly condemned the decision for a supposedly erroneous interpretation of a variant of …


Intuitive Formalism In Contract, Tess Wilkinson-Ryan Jan 2015

Intuitive Formalism In Contract, Tess Wilkinson-Ryan

All Faculty Scholarship

This Article starts with the proposition that most American contracting is consumer contracting, posits that consumer contracting has particular and even peculiar doctrinal features, and concludes that these features dominate the lay understanding of contract law. Contracts of adhesion constitute the bulk of consumer experience with contract law. It is not hard to see that someone discerning the nature of contract law from a sample composed almost entirely of boilerplate terms and conditions would come quickly to the conclusion that contract law is highly formal.

Within the realm of potentially enforceable deals (i.e., those that are supported by consideration and …


Sovereign Debt And The Three And A Half Minute Transaction: What Sticky Boilerplate Reveals About Contract Law And Practice, Andrea Boyack Oct 2013

Sovereign Debt And The Three And A Half Minute Transaction: What Sticky Boilerplate Reveals About Contract Law And Practice, Andrea Boyack

Faculty Publications

The Three and a Half Minute Transaction: Boilerplate and the Limits of Contractual Design, by Mitu Gulati and Robert E. Scott, is a cautionary tale about modern legal practice where the protagonist is the standard sovereign debt contract. The book discloses an undeniable flaw in sovereign bond boilerplate (the widely used pari passu clause) that, in spite of expensive, sophisticated lawyering, perpetuates a risky disconnect between party intent and contract terms. The fact that boilerplate terms persist even in elite sovereign-lending practices suggests that the problem of over-reliance on standard form language is ubiquitous.When contract terms diverge from client risk …


Vertical Boilerplate, James Gibson May 2013

Vertical Boilerplate, James Gibson

Law Faculty Publications

Despite what we learn in law school about the “meeting of the minds,” most contracts are merely boilerplate—take-it-or-leave-it propositions. Negotiation is nonexistent; we rely on our collective market power as consumers to regulate contracts’ content. But boilerplate imposes certain information costs because it often arrives late in the transaction and is hard to understand. If those costs get too high, then the market mechanism fails. So how high are boilerplate’s information costs? A few studies have attempted to measure them, but they all use a “horizontal” approach—i.e., they sample a single stratum of boilerplate and assume that it represents the …


Contract As Pattern Language, Erik F. Gerding Jan 2013

Contract As Pattern Language, Erik F. Gerding

Publications

Christopher Alexander’s architectural theory of a "pattern language" influenced the development of object-oriented computer programming. This pattern language framework also explains the design of legal contracts. Moreover, the pattern language rubric explains how legal agreements interlock to create complex transactions and how transactions interconnect to create markets. This pattern language framework helps account for evidence, including from the global financial crisis, of failures in modern contract design.

A pattern represents an encapsulated conceptual solution to a recurring design problem. Patterns save architects and designers from having to reinvent the wheel; they can use solutions that evolved over time to address …


Innovation After The Revolution: Foreign Sovereign Bond Contracts Since 2003, Anna Gelpern, G. Mitu Gulati Jan 2009

Innovation After The Revolution: Foreign Sovereign Bond Contracts Since 2003, Anna Gelpern, G. Mitu Gulati

Articles in Law Reviews & Other Academic Journals

For over a decade, contracts literature has focused on standardization. Scholars asked how terms become standard, and why they change so rarely. This line of inquiry painted a world where a standard term persists until it is dislodged by another standard term, perhaps after a brief window of ferment before the second term takes hold. It also overshadowed the early insights of boilerplate theories, which described contracts as a mix of standard and customized terms, and asked why the mix might be suboptimal. This article brings the focus back to the mix. It examines the development of selected provisions in …


Boilerplate And Economic Power In Auto-Manufacturing Contracts, Omri Ben-Shahar, James J. White Jan 2007

Boilerplate And Economic Power In Auto-Manufacturing Contracts, Omri Ben-Shahar, James J. White

Book Chapters

This chapter examines the boilerplate contracts used by auto makers to procure parts from suppliers. It identifies drafting and negotiation techniques that are used to secure advantageous terms. It also explores some prominent specific arrangements as evidence that firms with bargaining power are exploiting their position to dictate self-serving but inefficient terms. Finally, it shows how standard contractual clauses solve the problem of ex-post hold-up by suppliers.


Preface: Or: A Boilerplate Introduction, Omri Ben-Shahar Jan 2007

Preface: Or: A Boilerplate Introduction, Omri Ben-Shahar

Book Chapters

It is tempting to open this volume with yet another "boilerplate" salute to the challenge that standard-form contracts pose for contract law doctrine. You may have seen many tributes to this fundamental problem. Ifi were to offer my own variation on this familiar introduction, I would have perhaps tried to come up with an original spin to induce you to read forward another paragraph or two. I would probably have talked about a major divide within contract law between the "law of negotiations" and "product regulation." The former is the body of doctrines that determine the legal consequences of bargaining …


The Strategy Of Boilerplate, Robert B. Ahdieh Mar 2006

The Strategy Of Boilerplate, Robert B. Ahdieh

Faculty Scholarship

Boilerplate can be exciting. It is this, perhaps hard-to-swallow, proposition that the present analysis attempts to convey. Particularly in invoking the work of Thomas Schelling on the role of focal points in coordination games, it offers what can be characterized as a "strategic" theory of boilerplate, in which boilerplate plays an active, even aggressive, role.

Contrary to the relatively inert quality of boilerplate implied by conventional treatments in the legal literature, boilerplate may serve essential signaling and coordination functions in contract bargaining. In appropriate circumstances, its proposed usage may be a valuable weapon in the arsenal of a bargaining party, …


Foreword [To Boilerplate: Foundations Of Market Contracts Symposium], Omri Ben-Shahar Jan 2006

Foreword [To Boilerplate: Foundations Of Market Contracts Symposium], Omri Ben-Shahar

Articles

It is tempting to open this symposium with yet another "boilerplate" salute to the challenge that standard-form contracts pose for contract law doctrine. You may have seen many tributes to this fundamental problem. If I were to offer my own variation on this familiar introduction, I would have perhaps tried to come up with an original spin to induce you to read forward another paragraph or two. I would probably have talked about a major divide within contract law between the "law of negotiations" and "product regulation." The former is the body of doctrines that determine the legal consequences of …


Boilerplate And Economic Power In Auto Manufacturing Contracts, Omri Ben-Shahar, James J. White Jan 2006

Boilerplate And Economic Power In Auto Manufacturing Contracts, Omri Ben-Shahar, James J. White

Articles

This Article is structured as follows. Part I compares the terms and conditions in the purchase orders of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and highlights important differences in the substance of these boilerplate provisions. It argues that these differences cannot be easily reconciled with the prediction that sophisticated parties draft the most efficient boilerplate terms. Part II examines how these forms are drafted, how their terms are negotiated, and how the OEMs guard their terms from erosion. It provides some insight on how tailoring occurs and how the internal organization of a party to a deal affects the terms that …


"Contracting" For Credit, Ronald J. Mann Jan 2006

"Contracting" For Credit, Ronald J. Mann

Faculty Scholarship

On a recent day, I used my credit cards in connection with a number of minor transactions. I made eight purchases, and I paid two credit card bills. I also discarded (without opening) three solicitations for new cards, balance transfer programs, or other similar offers to extend credit via a credit card. Statistics suggest that I am not atypical. U.S. consumers last year used credit cards in about 100 purchasing transactions per capita, with an average value of about $70. At the end of the year, Americans owed nearly $500 billion dollars, in the range of $1,800 for every man, …


The Role Of Groups In Norm Transformation: A Dramatic Sketch, In Three Parts, Robert B. Ahdieh Jul 2005

The Role Of Groups In Norm Transformation: A Dramatic Sketch, In Three Parts, Robert B. Ahdieh

Faculty Scholarship

Legal scholars, as well as economists, have focused limited attention on the role of coordinated groups of market participants - committees, clubs, associations, and the like - in social ordering generally and in the evolution of norms particularly. One might trace this neglect to some presumptive orientation to state actors (expressive law) and autonomous individuals (norm entrepreneurs) as the sole parties of interest in social change. Yet, alternative stories of social ordering and norm change might also be told. Dramatic recent changes in the contracting practices of the sovereign debt markets offer one such story.

Using the latter by way …


Dragnet Clauses: Fischer V First Int’L Bank, 2003, Roger Bernhardt Jan 2003

Dragnet Clauses: Fischer V First Int’L Bank, 2003, Roger Bernhardt

Publications

This article discusses a California case which held that a boilerplate “dragnet” clause in a deed of trust did not defeat the borrower’s claim that the bank’s other loans to the borrower were not cross-collateralized.