Resources for translating contracts (3): Essential Contract Drafting Skills

Here’s another useful resource for translating contracts:

Essential Contract Drafting Skills — a Practical Guide by Tiffany Kemp

It’s a short book (doesn’t have that textbook feel I spoke of here!) with some good tips for translating contracts into English, especially UK English (the author’s variant).

What’s in this book for translators?

The book has some useful points about language and style. The author identifies both helpful elements of legal English and ones that should be avoided.

For instance, she likes ‘shall’, ‘subject to’, ‘notwithstanding’ and ‘hereby’ (when used correctly) and advises against ‘undertakes’, the passive voice and a lot of other typical legalese (there is a table with examples).

A sensible approach

Her approach to the legalese-versus-plain-English story is a practical one, basically finding in favour of useful language — legalese or otherwise — and doing everything you can to help the reader.

As you can see from the following quote, she’s a realist:

… It is essential to remember that many people (both in business and consumers) detest reading contracts. Even before the logged the first page, most ‘amateur’ readers of contracts will have decided that the document their better review is likely to include language they do not understand impose unreasonable obligations upon them, be difficult to follow, and add little value to the course of the business or personal dealings. p. 53

She wants to change this perception and help bring into existence more contracts people can actually read, understand and use.

The book also looks at some nuts and bolts type issues. Some of which I found useful, like the points on naming conventions and boilerplate clauses, and others that probably aren’t so relevant for translators, such as contract structure and fonts.

The book also gives some good basic information on contracts and their essential elements, neatly defining things like warranties, representations, terms, obligations and different types of agreements, e.g., terms and conditions, deeds, etc.

The risk-length-tone triangle

Probably not so useful for translators (as we don’t control content) but interesting nevertheless and maybe still applicable in some way, is Kemp’s risk-length-tone triangle.

Kemp's risk-length-tone triangle

Kemp’s risk-length-tone triangle

The main idea here being that you can’t make the tone friendlier (i.e., the tone-side longer) without also increasing risk or length. So, you have to find a trade-off.

Which, in a way, sums up the philosophy of this book: find the best trade-off between accuracy (risk for drafters and lawyers) and readability.

Written by Rob Lunn

Rob Lunn is a freelance legal translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English.

2 comments to “Resources for translating contracts (3): Essential Contract Drafting Skills”
  1. Pingback: Legally Yours from Spain | Quick tip for translating contracts (5): build a clause library

  2. Pingback: Legally Yours from Spain | Quick tip for translating contracts (8): use only useful legalese (and when to use “hereby”)

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