Rider Levett & Bucknall
Visual contracts to support collaborative contracting
During the Conference, we were introduced to a new innovative 'comic contract' developed by attorney Robert de Rooy in South Africa. His new comic employment contract was produced in 2016 and was implemented for use with fruit pickers on farms in the Western Cape province. The resulting improvement to employer/employee relationships and to employee productivity was astounding.
Although, at first consideration this approach is a a hard pill to swallow for the legally trained mind, there are immediately obvious benefits to the pictorial approach. Workers who may have learning difficulties or poor English skills, those people who learn better through visual communication, as well as young workers, could benefit from this novel approach. And other workplace documents that are distributed to an entire workforce, such as workplace policies, if written in such a visual format, could keep levels of engagement higher by capturing the interest of the reader long enough so they might actually read them in their entirety.
The benefits of using simpler, more direct drafting are obviously beneficial. The use of quasi-Latin terms or words like 'wherefore', 'henceforth' and 'herewith' can be avoided, unless you are directly dealing with a judge or want to deliberately intimidate or scare the other party. Don't get me wrong, there are certain complex contracts which require a certain amount of 'legalese' and should be drafted by a competent lawyer. But contracts like employment contracts and simple service contracts should not be intimidating and should be in a format which both parties can easily understand without conferring with a lawyer.
In August 2018, global engineering and infrastructure advisory company, Aurecon started using visual employment contracts, eliminating more than 4 000 words from their standard employment contract template to create a succinct and meaningful visual contract that uses illustrations to complement the text. The contracts were developed in partnership with Law Professor Camilla Andersen from the University of Western Australia.
A contract is formed when parties agree on terms they intend to be legally binding. Agreement is the basis of any contract. Parties must have the capacity to contract, which means that they must have a clear understanding of the contents of the contract. The object of the contract must be legal and possible, it must be in writing, signed by the parties and must be observed. Lastly, for the contract to be binding, a court must be able to interpret it. Comic contracts can meet all these requirements. And as proponent of collaborative contracting, I feel this new form of contracting could result in a focus on building relationships between the parties.
The examples of Robert de Rooy in South Africa, and of Aurecon in Australia, have motivated me to start working on a new visual construction contract which will combine comics, avatars and text balloons with simplified contract clause narrative. Anyone working in the international construction sector would certainly agree that there is a need to move away from unbalanced, hard to understand contracts which foster adversarial relationships between the parties.
If anyone would like to contribute towards my endeavors, you are most welcome to send me individual commic scenes or avatars with the associated contract clause heading captioned underneath. Your name will be included in the forward of the contract proforma as a contributor.