Tips for lawyers – drafting attractive and readable contracts
Creating great-looking contracts is important
In my law practice, the majority of my client work is focused on drafting contracts. I’ve put in a serious effort to strip them of legalese and convoluted language whenever possible. Each new client presents me the opportunity to edit and refine the language.
While those substantive aspects of the contract are inarguably the most important part, the looks and readability of the agreement are also vital. If the client and the other parties can’t comfortably read the document, what good is it?
Here’s some tips for making your contracts look great across the board.
Read up on typography
There’s really only one book you need: Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers. It is an excellent resource for attorneys (and anyone who writes documents for a living).
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This book was eye-opening. I had never thought about harnessing the power of Microsoft Word to make things easier on me. I didn’t realize what wide margins were doing to the readability of my contracts. A number of other issues were there, as well, that could be easily remedied.
Here’s the most important principles that I pulled from the book, aside from the typography changes I’ve made to my document drafting.
Understand the software that you spend so much time using
Transactional lawyers spend most of their working hours drafting documents in Microsoft Word or some other word processing application. But we’ve all had a document come across our desks that contains any number of weird things, like indents that are made out of a bunch of spacebar hits or manually-created numbered lists. For those who have to make changes to these documents, it can be maddening when you get unexpected results.
Word contains a number of features that the average attorney may not be aware of. For instance:
- Styles that define various types of text uniformly throughout the document;
- The ability to create and scrub metadata;
- Robust commenting and change-tracking systems; and
- Real-time collaboration with others.
There’s more. Word has a host of shortcuts, advanced Find and Replace features, as well as other cool tricks that will make you work faster and smarter.
Establish procedures and templates to automate the process
Once you’ve learned how to use the software, you should take time to establish some templates that automate the formatting of your documents.
Learning about how styles work and creating the first template, whether it’s for your engagement letter or your general contract usage, shouldn’t take more than a couple hours. It will save you a ton of time in the long run, though.
Things like creating the numbered lists just the way you want them (proper indents, numbering style, etc.) or making sure all of your headings stick with the first line of text that follows can all be automated. This lets you concentrate on the actual content of the agreement without constantly fiddling with formatting.
You can create various templates that get auto-filled, whether they’re client intake documents, collaboration agreements, or estate planning contracts.
You’ve got your templates ready? The next step is setting up some contract automation using merge fields that can really get those documents written faster. We’ll go over that next time.
Here’s some resources that should get you started:
- Typography for Lawyers book
- Butterick’s Practical Typography site
- A good reality check from The Lawyerist
- Some good tricks from the ABA
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