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How To Help Clients See What They’re Getting Into: Comic Contracts

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Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.54.34 AMWhat if people really understood the documents they were signing?  That was the challenge that South African lawyer Robert de Rooy set out to address with the Comic Contract that he developed for one of his clients, Clemengold Mandarin fruit supplier.  As described here  and here, the Comic Contract uses visualization, with the parties depicted as characters and pictures to explain often complicated terms to farmworkers – many who cannot read well, are illiterate or struggle to understand legalese (which is a problem for everyone, not just the uneducated). DeRooy explains:

Giving an employee pages of text they do not understand is institutional oppression. The purpose of a Comic Contract is to empower the parties to understand each other, to understand what they expect from each other, and what they are committing to.”

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.55.44 AMInstitutional oppression, by contracts? Sounds extreme – but it’s true. Think about it. For instance, what if back in the heyday of the housing market boom, the super-low interest housing sale and refi contracts had graphically depicted a family losing its home after a balloon mortgage matured. How many of those later foreclosed on would have gone forward with those agreements to begin with?

We lawyers are no better. We tout the importance of representation agreements – indeed, they’re ethically required – but how many of our clients truly understand what they’re signing – a point discussed in my Rocket Retains and Power Pacts  program.  No wonder that clients are suspicious of lawyers.

Unfortunately, even though Comic Contracts are a sensible solution, they can be costly to create. Stanford’s Legal Design Lab, launched this past April and has started developing a variety of terrific visual tools. But as Bloomberg Law reports, students in the Lab have either worked on projects for BigLaw or Big Companies (like Orrick, Seyfarth and Hewlard Packard) or indigent matters.  As usual, these new innovations ignore solo and small firms….

…which is why you have MyShingle! Over the past 4 years, I’ve blogged about several neat DIY resources that help solo and small firms to develop visual charts, pricing menus and other graphic designs to present information to clients.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 2.20.53 AMSince these posts, new visualization tools have emerged – with each iteration easier to use. The most recent one that I discovered via Product Hunt is called Adioma – it helps users quickly prepare simple graphic timelines and charts (you can see the examples that I tossed together in 15 minutes at 2 a.m. as proof of concept) The capabilities on the demo product that I used are a bit limited, and at $39/month, the product is still a bit pricy as an ongoing subscription – but as a one-time experiment, the price isn’t bad.

With this abundance of visual tools, how do you choose which to use? Stanford’s Design Lab Margaret Hagan created this cool visual (of course!) describing which type of graphic – a chart, flowchart, infographic, etc…works best for a particular goal.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 11.18.36 AMDo illustrated contracts dumb down agreements so much so as to render them worthless? I’ll have to wait for the leading authority, Ken Adams (who’s also speaking at Clio Con ) to weigh in on that. As for me, before lawyers start drawing conclusions about illustrated contracts, they may want to pick up a pencil or put finger or stylus to tablet and sketch out at flow chart or diagram to parse a complicated legal issue of procedure to get an accurate picture of just how powerful visualization can be.

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