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The New Media and Opportunities for Contract Visualization: Applications of Visual Law

Colette R. Brunschwig

2011-11-24 16:41

Already in 1991 (twenty years ago), the US-American legal theorist M. ETHAN KATSH made the following observation:

"[…] broad changes are occurring to the law, to what it is and how it works, and that these changes are linked to the appearance of new methods of storing, processing, and communicating [my emphasis] information. We are the first society in history to have the ability to communicate electronically. Because of various qualities of electronic communication that will be described below, the control of information, the organization of information, and the movement of information are no longer the same as they once were. This will have a considerable impact on an institution, such as the law, whose foundation is the processing of information but whose goals, values, capabilities, and modes of operation are tied to the older methods of communicating [my emphasis]" (M. ETHAN KATSH, The Electronic Media and the Transformation of Law, New York, NY, 1991, p. 3).

Four years later, in Law in a Digital World (New York, NY, et al. 1995, p. 115), KATSH especially explored which opportunities the new media present for structuring contractual relationships. In Chapter 5 ("Contracts: Relationships in Cyberspace"), he wrote:

"Thus far, the intrusion of the new information technologies into the legal environment has touched contracts in three ways. First the consumer marketplace has produced software that allows lay people to produce some contracts without the aid of a lawyer. There are several computer programs on the market that contain forms that can be printed out, filled in, and used as contracts. […] A more sophisticated use of information technologies is the document-assembly or document-drafting programs lawyers use to put together more complex contracts. Such programs create a draft of a contract out of pieces of contracts that have been worked on in the past. […] In both of these examples, the end result is a contract that comes out of a 'printer.' The computer helps to produce the contract, perhaps even to give advice on how to fill in the blanks and what the blanks mean, but the contract is on paper rather than in electronic form. The computer is used as a tool, creating contracts that appear the same as written contracts and that are indeed the same as written contracts. More ambitious is the use of Electronic Data Interchange (or EDI), which is intended to allow contracts to be in electronic form. […] it is necessary to move beyond the electronically generated paper contract, and even beyond typical EDI where contracts exist in electronic form but could be printed out if the parties wished to do so. It is necessary to consider what it will mean to employ contracts in electronic form, contracts that exist only in cyberspace and that also cannot really be duplicated on paper. […] (Ibid., pp. 117 sq.).

In this book, KATSH developed further ideas how the new media (could) have an impact on contracts. We also know from e-commerce law that these implications are huge.

Astonishingly, the author "only" focused on the verbal aspects of contracts, and never made concret suggestions on contract visualization. He did so, despite devoting Chapter  6 ("Beyond Words: Visualizing in Cyberspace") to the visual implications of the new media for the law (see ibid., pp. 133 sqq.).

I am therefore pleased that HELENA HAAPIO (see, a member of the Community on Multisensory Law, is striving to fill this scientific and practical legal knowledge gap. She has published on contract visualization (see, for example, <> ). She has also written a posting for this community (see <> ).

Here is an interview with HAAPIO hot off the press (see <>).

Two paragraphs might be particularly relevant to those interested in the applications of visual law to contract law:

"We’re used to seeing contracts in textual form. Their structure, with its paragraphs and references, resembles that of laws. Contracts employ little visualisation or other means to clarify the text. The practices have never been questioned.

New forms of collaboration and new business models call for new types of contracts. Indeed, at Ruukki we have asked why contracts couldn’t also be visualised. Experiments at Ruukki have shown that visualisation used alongside contract texts help to piece things together. They speed up negotiations."

The underlying rationale of this posting is that I consider it worthwile to embed multisensory law and its branches within larger discourses in legal theory.

(Please note: all websites were last accessed on November 24, 2011).

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