Contracts have always relied on text first, foremost, and usually exclusively. Yet, this approach leaves many users of contracts in the dark as to the actual meaning of the transactional documents and instruments they enter into. The average contract routinely uses language that only lawyers, law-trained readers, and highly literate persons can truly understand.

There is a movement in the law in the United States and many other nations called the visualization of law movement that attempts to bridge these gaps in contractual communication by using highly visual instruments. In appropriate circumstances, even cartoons and comic book forms of sequential narrative have been used to communicate contract terms to all parties, but particularly to contractors who are illiterate or less-than-fully literate in the language of the instrument.

The goal of this Article is to apply the lens of visual legal rhetoric and visual literacy to the current visualization movement in Proactive Law and Legal Design in their efforts to promote visual, non-verbal communication in contracts through cartoon, comic book, and highly pictorial legal instruments. The lens will be applied to evaluate and critique five aspects of proactive visual legal instruments:

• Immediate Visual Context

• Immediate Verbal Context

• Visual Cultural Context

• Mise en Scène and Arrangement

• Visual Rhetoric, Ethics and Professionalism

This Article analyzes whether highly visual contracts and legal instruments fulfill the potential for greater access to and understanding of contract terms particularly with audiences whose language skills and cultural experience might make the comprehension and acceptance of purely verbal contracts more difficult. When visuals can overcome barriers in communication that words alone cannot, contracts and other legal instruments can be made more universal in their application, interpretation, performance, and enforcement.

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Notes/Citation Information

Michael D. Murray, Cartoon Contracts and the Proactive Visualization of Law, 16 U. Mass. L. Rev. 98 (2021).

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Contracts Commons


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