Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Power of Statistics

We all know the catch phrase “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” It is typically used to mean that statistics can be manipulated to support any proposition and should therefore be viewed--presumably--with some degree of skepticism.

And that’s a concern for those of us seeking to harness the power of statistics to analyze contracts and other documents.

So I was intrigued when I came across Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball-The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (2003). I enjoyed Liar’s Poker (1989) and look forward to reading The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010). I confess to reading a synopsis of Moneyball on Wikipeadia. It summarizes the book:

“The central premise of Moneyball is that the collected wisdom of baseball insiders (including players, managers, coaches, scouts, and the front office) over the past century is subjective and often flawed. Statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th century view of the game and the statistics that were available at the time. The book argues that the Oakland A's' front office took advantage of more empirical gauges of player performance to field a team that could compete successfully against richer competitors in Major League Baseball.”

The application of math and statistics to literature, art, and even sports is often greeted with skepticism, doubt and sometimes nostalgia. For example, Bill Simmons of ESPN writes in Finally joining the revolution: “I longed for the old days when you could say things like, ‘I hate watching J.D. Drew -- when is that contract going to end?’ and there wasn't some dude lurking behind me with Drew's stellar OPS, VORP and WAR numbers saying, "Well, actually ... "

Simmons is now a convert and is convinced by the insights offered by sabermetrics.

Reading these articles also made me think of a piece in the Wall Street Journal titled, Contract Doesn't Let Board Fire Mann CEO for Jail Term, in which the authors appear outraged that “[u]nder the terms of the employment agreement for Louis Lower, the jailed chief executive of Horace Mann Educators Corp., serving a 60-day sentence on a drunken-driving charge isn't grounds for firing—or for losing any pay.”

If the authors harnessed the power of empirical evidence, they would discover that termination for substance abuse is rare, appearing in less than 5% of CEO contracts. Stewart J. Schwab and Randall S. Thomas report on their analysis in An Empirical Analysis of CEO Contracts: What Do Top Executives Bargain For?

Some contracts may include commission of a felony as cause for dismissal and termination of pay; but typically a DUI is a misdemeanor and in some states it carries a mandatory jail sentence.

While contract analysis is a very new field, it will likely offer new insights on precedent that we thought we understood thoroughly and it may question our long-held beliefs.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Creating Forms by Committee and Consensus

An earlier post—The Fastest Way to Create a Form—describes a process to identify standards using technology to find the most conforming document and the most conforming clauses to quickly establish a baseline and then bring it up to practice standards by supplementing the baseline with missing and divergent clauses.

In other cases, a consensus building approach might be preferred. Working with ABA Model Intellectual Property Task Force, we have proposed an efficient, technology-enabled approach to develop model forms based on a potentially diverse set of documents and a wide range of individual interests.

1. Create the reference set from a source set of documents. In this case kiiac examined 105 Intellectual Property Security Agreements. (If you are interested in viewing the set, please send me an email and I will provide you with access credentials).

2. Provide an overview of the process. John Murdock, partner at Bradley Arant, created a YouTube video explaining the goals of the project and how the group can achieve consensus and develop the model form. John created the video in PowerPoint and rendered it with Moyea PPT to Video Converter. (FYI: A good resource for ideas about putting PPT content on the web is:

3. Gather feedback on drafting options. The consensus building approach needs to work both during in-person meetings (that may take occur twice a year) and between such dates. In order to move the process along more efficiently, the key drafting choices are identified and the group’s opinions gathered through a Survey Monkey.

The approach to identifying the drafting questions used the technology to examine where consensus exists and where there is a range of opinions. One of the goals of the MIPSA project is brevity. While it would be easy to use the technology to identify all possible variants and string together a comprehensive lists, the group determined to use the process to streamline and clarify contract language.

Where kiiac finds that all documents contain a particular provision, it is considered required. But where a particular provision is found in the some, but not all agreements, it is considered optional or deal specific. The group is then asked whether it should be included in the model. For example, 100% of the grant clauses contain a grant of a security interest, while a smaller percentage include language to “assign,” “pledge,” or “hypothecate” the collateral. Here is a screen shot of the Survey Monkey.

The first step to create a model for the grant clause will run through December. I’ll report back on the results and level of participation.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Contract Readability -- Part 1

What makes a document easier to read and understand by both humans and machines? Does readability—or lack thereof—affect document quality?

The next few blog posts will focus on drafting practices to assure quality and avoid mistakes. The purpose is to try and identify best—and worse practices—and discuss whether they have any significant impact on quality.

The golden rules of human readability are generally well understood. JoAnn Hackos and Dawn Stephens in Standards for Online Communication (1997) summarizes the rules:

  • “Use short, simple, familiar words.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • Use culture-and-gender-neutral language.
  • Use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Use simple sentences, active voice, and present tense.
  • Begin instructions in the imperative mode by starting sentences with an action verb.
  • Use simple graphic elements such as bulleted lists and numbered steps to make information visually accessible.”

But, lawyers, as typified by a well-known Dilbert cartoon, are well known to violate each rule with reckless abandon.

There’s a fabulous site you can use to test the readability of your contracts.

Online Readability Test

It estimates the number of years of formal education required to understand text on first reading using the Gunning Fog index. The software reported that for one merger agreement I processed, you will need nearly 23 years of schooling. It will be interesting to discover the most incomprehensible document.

Contractual clarity has long been the goal of the Plain English movement. But, it has made only limited progress. In the next post, I’ll address whether readability matters.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Fastest Way to Create a Model Form

We all know the most inefficient method: ask attorneys for their best samples and form a committee to review the documents. Virtually all firms have tried this approach: all with same result.

Now, with aid of technology, there are much more efficient methods that can produce a model document in days; sometimes hours.

1. Search the document management or file system for the desired document type. Vetting or editorial review is not required. The software should identify the required documents and parse the clauses to identify the core, non-negotiated language.

2. Analyze the set of documents and

· capture the document outline, indentifying the frequency of each provision;

· capture a library of clauses for each provision, identifying language consistency

3. Find the most conforming document. This is the document that contains all common terms and the most standard clause language. Most importantly, it will have been drafted so that all its clauses and defined terms work together. It is also useful to confirm that this model is also widely used at the firm (i.e. are there a number of similar documents). If so, it is not only the most conforming document, but also the de facto standard.

4. Find the clauses in the most conforming document that might be missing. These are the clauses that occur frequently in the document set, but are absent from the most conforming document. Determine whether to add the most conforming clause from the clause library or another clause example, if desired.

5. Find the clauses in the most conforming document that diverge from the standard core language. These are the clauses that may be missing some standard language or may contain deal-specific language. Determine whether to replace these clauses with the most conforming clauses or another clause example, if desired.

In a recent application of this approach, one top-level clause was indentified as missing and four clauses were identified as divergent. The lawyer review process to create the model form took 45 minutes.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A concise history of the use of forms in the legal profession

The earliest use of model forms can be traced back to 1392, when the Worshipful Company of Scriveners first employed scribes to beautifully copy one document to the next. WHEREAS, the aforementioned forms were penned in Ye 'Olde English, the innovation is remembered mainly for its use of hand-scrolled, script font.

In these early years, the pace of innovation is swift. The next major milestone came in 1450, when Gutenberg invents the printing press, enabling the mass production of form books. In terms of drafting practice, the distinguishing feature of the innovation is the use of the blackletter font.

However, for nearly 400 years innovation is shunned as drafting enters the dark ages. It is not until 1829 that the next major innovation arrives with the invention of the typewriter, enabling lawyers to mass produce their own forms. The innovation is distinguished mainly by the eventual adoption of the courier font.

Finally, in 1976, Jobs and Wosniak invent the personal computer, facilitating the automated mass production--and personalization--of legal forms. However, most contracts are still drafted by copying the last document and laboriously making the necessary changes for the next client. The key innovation is the wholesale transition from a fixed width to a proportional font with the introduction of Times New Roman.

One can only imagine what new discoveries will be made in the centuries to come.