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February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Contract-Drafting Bulletin
Vincent R. Martorana | Editor | Counsel, New York | +1 212 549 0418
In this issue:
Does Quality Contract Drafting Matter?
2
Shall I Dispense with ‘Shall’? Not Entirely
4
Interview with a Commercial Litigator
5
World of Boxing LLC v. King
8
Comments to a Basic Confidentiality Obligation
10
1
February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Does Quality Contract Drafting Matter?
Introduction
Donna S. Salcedo
Associate, New York
Corporate & Transactional
Advisory Group
+1 212 231 1417
[email protected]
Does quality contract drafting matter?
The short, and probably unsurprising,
answer is “yes.” Contract drafting is “one
of the most intellectually demanding of all
legal disciplines”1 and, as such, should be
taken seriously. However, more interesting
inquiries are why and to what extent quality
contract drafting matters.
Why Does Quality Contract
Drafting Matter?
So why does quality contract drafting
matter? One of the key reasons it
matters to our clients is because poor
contract drafting results in costly
consequences. In certain instances, it
has even “determine[d] issues of life and
death…of war and peace…and [resulted in]
multibillion-dollar verdicts.”2
One example is Martin Marietta Materials,
Inc. v. Vulcan Materials Company.3 In this
case, the specific disputed provisions
of two confidentiality agreements “were
ambiguous and, therefore, [the court was]
required [to] resort to extrinsic evidence to
determine the parties’ intended meaning
of those provisions.”4 The issue in the
case was whether, in the absence of
an explicit standstill provision, Martin
Marietta Materials, Inc. (“Marietta”) was
permitted to use confidential information
of Vulcan Materials Company (“Vulcan”)
in order to make an unsolicited bid for
stock in Vulcan. The court ultimately held
that Marietta was prohibited from doing
this and had therefore breached the two
“Having a rigorous approach to contract drafting
and a desire to constantly improve contract drafting
will reduce costs over time by reducing costs
associated with uncertainty, contract compliance,
and contract dispute resolution.”
confidentiality agreements in question.
As a result, Marietta was enjoined for four
months from pursuing a $5.5 billion hostile
bid against Vulcan. The outcome might
have differed or have been easily resolved
if the confidentiality agreements contained
explicit language regarding standstill
provisions or unsolicited offers.
Courts, of course, also regularly address
issues of contract interpretation on a
smaller scale in terms of dollars, but which
are of the utmost importance to the parties
at issue.5
To What Extent Does Quality Contract
Drafting Matter?
Though the consequences of poor contract
drafting can be very serious, it’s not every
day that the results are so life-altering.
Sometimes the impact is subtle, hidden,
or inchoate. Perhaps this is why quality
contract drafting is all too often given short
shrift.
In theory, the words on the page always
matter. Much like computer code, if the
drafter uses the wrong choice of words to
express a given concept in a contract, then
that concept might not “compile” when it
comes time to interpret the provision of
the contract that articulates that concept.
However, unlike computer code, bad
concept “compiling” doesn’t always cause
the contract or applicable provision to
“crash.” In fact, more often than not, the
parties to a contract and their respective
counsel can “get by” with suboptimal
language when expressing a given concept.
This leads to another question: What does it
mean to “get by” with suboptimal language
in a contract? As mentioned above, courts
regularly address issues of contract
interpretation. But, like the known matter
in our universe, these issues comprise the
minority of contract-interpretation issues.
2
February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Continued from page 2:
Does Quality Contract
Drafting Matter?
There is far more contract-interpretation
“dark matter” out there, the magnitude
of which is difficult to assess because it
is hidden from the general public.
Instead, these obscure, but potentially
significant, contract-interpretation issues
manifest themselves in a number of other
ways, such as:
•
Disputes addressed through
arbitration or mediation
•
Disputes addressed through
renegotiation of contract terms
•
Disputes that are resolved more
informally (e.g., through phone calls
and emails)
•
Disputes that are avoided because
a party to a contract feels that the
costs of raising an issue with a
provision in that contract outweigh
the benefits
In addition, not only are these issues often
hidden, but in some cases, they also might
just have not manifested themselves.
Parties to a contract might go along
happily with a poorly drafted contract
for years before a need arises for them
to take a second look at that contract.
Knowing that millions of contracts are
floating around in the world, it is unsettling
to also know that there is no way to quantify
the potential consequences of a poorly
drafted contract.
issue carrying some level of importance.
And while it is true that the costs of shoddy
contract drafting don’t always manifest
themselves, they can, and sometimes do,
with dire consequences. Quality contract
drafting is therefore critical to an attorney’s
craft. Having a rigorous approach
to contract drafting and a desire to
constantly improve contract drafting
will reduce costs over time by reducing
costs associated with uncertainty,
contract compliance, and contract
dispute resolution.
1.
Reed Dickerson, Clear Legal Drafting: What’s
Holding Us Back? 5 Est. & Tr. Q. 146, 149
(1979-1981), available at http://www.heinonline.
org/HOL/Page?collection=journals&handle=he
in.journals/espjrl5&id=158
2.
Preston Torbert, Contract Drafting: A Socratic
Manifesto, 14 Scribes J. Legal Writing 93, 101,
102 (July 1, 2010), available at http://ssrn.com/
abstract=2206576
3.
Martin Marietta Materials, Inc. v. Vulcan
Materials Company, C.A. No. 7102-CS (Del.
Ch. May 4, 2012).
4.
Id. at 17.
5.
See, e.g., Vincent R. Martorana, A Guide
to Contract Interpretation (July 2014),
available at http://www.reedsmith.com/files/
uploads/miscellany/A_Guide_to_Contract_
Interpretation__July_2014_.pdf.
Conclusion
All of this is to say that contract drafting
affects lawyers and clients in a pervasive
way. Just because a particular contractinterpretation issue is not the crux of a
Supreme Court ruling does not mean
it is not a significant or meaningful
issue. Lawyers are often thought of as
wordsmiths, tasked with the responsibility
of thoughtfully and skillfully choosing the
words to use and the way in which to use
them. Those of us who deal with contracts
face contract-interpretation issues every
day (whether or not we realize it!), each
3
February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Shall I Dispense with ‘Shall’? Not Entirely
Leah D. Braukman
Associate, New York
Corporate & Transactional
Advisory Group
+1 212 521 5469
[email protected]
As a recent law-school graduate, I have
quite a few contract-drafting textbooks
lining my office bookshelves, each of which
highlights the importance of modern legal
drafting techniques. Why, then, do so many
contracts that I see contain language from
eons ago? One common offense is the
use—or should I say overuse—of the word
“shall.”
“Shall”
Ideally, “shall” should not be used in
a contract other than to impose an
obligation on a party to the agreement.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the
only acceptable use of the term, under
strict standards of contract drafting, is
to impose an obligation on a party to the
agreement, since “shall” means: “has a
duty to; more broadly, is required to…”1 Ken
Adams, a prominent authority on contract
drafting, echoes this sentiment,2 as does
Tina Stark.3
Yet many contract drafters use “shall”:
•
to express futurity (for which “will” is
more appropriate)
•
to impose (or to try to impose)
obligations on third parties (which is
never appropriate), or
•
to sound authoritative and lawyerly
(which is also never appropriate)
“To avoid using ‘shall’ for rhetorical emphasis…, ask
yourself whether a party to the contract precedes
the word ‘shall.’”
“Will”
If you’d like to connote futurity, as
opposed to an obligation, use “will.” By
doing so, you avoid using the same term
(“shall”) to convey both a duty to act and
futurity. Moreover, using “will” to convey
futurity (rather than “shall”) is more in line
with our everyday use of the word “will.” So,
for example, rather than
This Agreement shall terminate on
December 31, 2015.
write
This Agreement will terminate on
December 31, 2015.
“Must”
If an obligation exists, but the duty to
act does not arise from the contract
provision itself, the word “must” is a
better choice than the word “shall.”
This is often the case when referencing
obligations of third parties or conditions to
be satisfied. For example:
If the Company must create and deliver
a report under the Company’s letter
agreement with the Key Customer,
then the Purchaser shall reimburse
the Company for all costs that the
Company incurs in connection with
creating and delivering that report.
In this example, this clause does not
purport to obligate the Company; the
Company’s obligation to create and
deliver a report exists, if at all, in the the
Company’s letter agreement with the Key
Customer. However, this clause does place
an obligation (albeit a conditional one)
on the Purchaser, which is a party to the
contract containing this clause.
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February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Continued from page 4:
Shall I Dispense with
‘Shall’? Not Entirely
Do Not Use “Shall” For Rhetorical
Emphasis
“Shall” is also often inappropriately
used for rhetorical emphasis. This
is particularly prevalent in “boilerplate”
provisions. For example, contract drafters
often incorrectly write
This Agreement shall be governed by
New York law.
rather than
This Agreement is governed by New
York law.
To avoid using “shall” for rhetorical
emphasis (in the prior example, purporting
to obligate the term “Agreement”), ask
yourself whether a party to the contract
precedes the word “shall.” If not, as is the
case in our example above, then using
“shall” is wrong.
The Upshot
than to convey an obligation, do not use
“shall.” Use “will” (rather than “shall”) to
convey futurity. And use “must” to point
to an obligation that exists outside of
the clause in which “must” is used, or to
reference a condition to be satisfied. By
following these suggestions regarding the
uses of “shall,” “will,” and “must,” you’ll
streamline your drafting, use terms in a
consistent manner, reduce ambiguity,
avoid giving more than one meaning or
function to a term, and increase the overall
readability of your contract.
1.
Black’s Law Dictionary 653 (3rd ed. 2006).
2.
Ken Adams, Revisiting Use of “Shall” in
Contract Drafting, Adams on Contract Drafting
(Sept. 23, 2011), http://www.adamsdrafting.
com/revisiting-use-of-shall-in-contractdrafting/.
3.
Tina L. Stark, Drafting Contracts – How and
Why Lawyers Do What They Do 183 (2nd ed.
2013).
Use “shall” only if you want to create an
affirmative or negative obligation. If your
mission is to accomplish anything other
Interview with a Commercial Litigator
Below is a transcript of my December 18,
2014, interview with John B. Webb, who is
a partner in our U.S. Commercial Litigation
Group. John provides valuable insight on:
Vincent R. Martorana
Counsel, New York
Corporate & Transactional
Advisory Group
+1 212 549 0418
[email protected]
•
Common drafting errors that he
comes across in his practice
•
Frequently invoked contractinterpretation principles
•
His preference for New York law as
the governing law of a contract
•
Advice for transactional attorneys
VINCENT R. MARTORANA: What are the
most common drafting errors that you
come across?
JOHN B. WEBB: One problem that I
typically come across is the issue of
inconsistent provisions, where one
provision says one thing and then, later
on in the contract, there’s a provision
that either conflicts with the previous
provision or renders the previous provision
ambiguous.
When it gets to me, it’s already a dispute.
But in terms of preventing such drafting
errors, I think it’s really important that, as
a transactional attorney, you should be
thinking about the contract as a whole.
MARTORANA: This, I think, comes under
the category of holistic interpretation:
reading the contract as a whole rather than
reading provisions in a vacuum.
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February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Continued from page 5:
Interview with a Commercial
Litigator
WEBB: Correct; so inconsistent provisions
are a big problem.
Also, it’s helpful to think about
foreseeable contingencies when you
draft contracts, although it requires a little
foresight and effort. Many times, contracts
don’t address contingencies that are very
much foreseeable – or they don’t address
the contingencies adequately. For example,
the contract will reference the contingency,
but then not provide a remedy if that
contingency occurs or doesn’t occur.
MARTORANA: Do you think that failing
to adequately address foreseeable
contingencies is predominantly intentional
or an oversight?
WEBB: That’s a fair question. Sometimes
these contingencies are intentionally not
addressed so that the parties can close
the deal. But other times they are just not
considered at all. You at least need to raise
the issue with your client.
The other thing that I find to be a problem in
contracts are undefined material terms.
In the arbitration that I just completed, there
was a contingency in the contract that said
that, if one party became insolvent, then
a free irrevocable license was granted.
But the parties never defined the term
“insolvent.” The other side argued that
“insolvent” has a sophisticated financial
definition. We argued that a layman’s
understanding of insolvency applied: can
the company pay its bills and operate? But
this became a very heated issue in the case
because no one took the time beforehand
to define what the term meant.
“I think that it’s important for transactional attorneys
to consider bringing in a litigator to look at a draft
contract who has experience in the subject area
covered by the contract and is familiar with the
governing law that controls the contract.”
MARTORANA: What are the most
frequent principles of contract
interpretation that you invoke (or that
you see judges invoke) when resolving
contract disputes?
WEBB: Courts generally focus on the text
itself. The text is the best reflection of
the parties’ intent. So any time there’s a
contractual dispute, the first thing a court
will ask is: “What does the language say?”
Another principle is that the “specific”
controls over the “general.” When there
are specific provisions in a contract, they
must have meaning. So you can’t ignore
those provisions. If there is a general
reference to a subject matter and also
a more-specific reference to that same
subject matter, courts will generally give
deference to the more-specific reference.
MARTORANA: When we put together our
contract-drafting white paper, this was one
of the principles that we found referenced in
the cases we reviewed: the specific governs
over the general.
WEBB: Additionally, I often encounter the
principle that contracts should not be
interpreted to produce a result that is
absurd, commercially unreasonable, or
contrary to the reasonable expectations
of the parties. Now even though that is
a core tenet of contract interpretation, it’s
definitely heavily relied upon in case law,
but it’s not always applied. It depends
upon the nature of the parties. If you have
two sophisticated parties on each side of
the equation, then a court is more likely to
enforce the language of the contract, even
if it ends up producing what some might
consider an absurd result. The court might
reason: you’re sophisticated parties, you
have to live with the language. However, if
there is a disparity in the bargaining power
of the parties, or one is more powerful or
sophisticated than the other, then a court
may review an interpretation that would
lead to an absurd result in favor of the
sophisticated party.
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February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Continued from page 6:
Interview with a Commercial
Litigator
One more common contract-interpretation
principle: all terms have to be given
meaning to avoid rendering a term
nugatory. In other words, you can’t just
ignore provisions in a contract. And courts
regularly talk about this principle.
MARTORANA: This is one of those
principles that we transactional attorneys
tend to think about when drafting.
Moving on, is there a particular state’s
laws that you prefer to apply when
interpreting a contract?
John B. Webb
John is a partner in Reed
Smith’s New York office and
a member of the Commercial
Litigation Group. He
handles a wide variety of
complex contract litigation,
including pharmaceutical
licensing disputes, financial
services litigation, business
related disputes, unfair
competition, defamation
claims, intellectual property
claims and other commercial
disputes. John has tried
cases and argued appeals in
both state and federal courts
in New York.
John regularly counsels
pharmaceutical clients on
how best to draft liability
provisions contained in
licensing agreements in
order to avoid or reduce the
risk of potential litigation.
In the same context, John
routinely counsels life
sciences clients by preparing
risk assessment memoranda
when the threat of litigation
arises.
John also has experience
trying cases before the
American Arbitration
Association and handling
FINRA arbitrations.
John is chair of Reed Smith’s
New York Summer Associate
Recruitment Committee.
WEBB: I think that New York is terrific
for contract interpretation. New York is
the hub of commerce. A lot of business
transactions take place here in New York
and disputes relating to those transactions
are often handled by New York courts.
So there’s an abundance of case law
addressing contract interpretation in
New York. And courts are less inclined to
question the words that are used in the
contract and to impose their own will. So
when I have an opportunity to select or
propose the governing law of the contract,
I’ll often advise that we select New York law.
MARTORANA: And I think that New York
tends to respect freedom-of-contract
principles. My sense is that a court
construing a contract under New York law
would err on the side of not putting its own
gloss on the contract in the face of clear
language.
subject area covered by the contract
and is familiar with the governing law
that controls the contract. For example,
I’ve suggested to clients in the life sciences
space that they have their contracts
reviewed by one of our life sciences
litigation attorneys to avoid disputes
beforehand. And clients have taken me up
on the suggestion and have asked us to
review agreements ahead of time to make
sure that those agreements are clear, and
that they protect the client’s business
interests.
MARTORANA: I think that’s unique and
would say that approach is more the
exception than the norm, particularly given
a client’s sensitivity to cost and time—
although, in an ideal world, I would love to
have a litigator review all my drafts before
they go out.
WEBB: I agree. But when there is a
litigation, that’s a great time to approach a
client about revisiting and revising their form
contracts, because the client is then keenly
aware of the benefits of that approach.
MARTORANA: What’s the takeaway for
transactional attorneys? When do we say:
“Before we sign, let me call John”?
MARTORANA: And as contract drafters,
this gives us great comfort.
WEBB: I think when you know that this
has been a disputed area. You learn about
your client’s history. And when there is a
particular area that you know is typically
disputed – either in the industry or if it’s a
hot-button issue for the client – that’s when
you might want to run the contract past a
litigator ahead of time just to avoid having a
headache later on.
The last question that I have: As a
litigator, what advice do you have
for transactional attorneys drafting
contracts?
MARTORANA: John, this has been great.
I want to thank you for your time and for
the insight that you’ve given us on the
transactional side of the practice.
WEBB: I think it’s important for
transactional attorneys to consider
bringing in a litigator to look at a draft
contract who has experience in the
WEBB: No problem. Feel free to give me a
ring on contract-interpretation issues, either
before or after a deal is signed up.
WEBB: Correct.
7
February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
World of Boxing LLC v. King
Marla R. Guttman
Contract Attorney, New York
Real Estate
+1 212 521 5443
[email protected]
World of Boxing LLC v. King1 provides
insight on the extent to which a party
to a contract can be held accountable
for breaching that party’s obligation to
“cause” an individual to take or not take
certain actions.
Facts
Boxing promoter Don King (“King”)
entered into an agreement in principle
(the “Agreement”) with Russian boxing
promoters World of Boxing (“WOB”) to
create a rematch between King’s fighter,
Guillermo Jones (“Jones”), and WOB’s
fighter, Denis Lebedev (“Lebedev”). The
prior fight between the parties’ respective
boxers had to be vacated because it was
discovered in post-match tests that Jones
tested positive for banned substance
furosemide. The terms of the Agreement
are the subject of the dispute in the case.
In particular, the Agreement contemplated
the mandatory pre-bout drug testing of
Jones. Specifically, the Agreement provided
that Jones “‘undertakes to be subjected
to drug testing before and after the fight,
in compliance with the rules of the [World
Boxing Association].’” Additionally, in the
Agreement, King promised to “‘cause
Jones ... to participate’” in the rematch.
The purpose of this provision, as King had
explained by affidavit, was to “‘preclude
another ... positive drug test [from Jones].’”
Nonetheless, despite knowing he would
be tested, Jones tested positive for the
furosemide again on the day of the rematch.
Therefore, as the court affirms, Jones could
not participate in the rematch under World
Boxing Association (“WBA”) rules.
King Breached the Agreement By Failing
to “cause Jones to participate”
WOB sued King, arguing that, by failing to
“cause Jones to participate” in the bout,
King breached the terms of the Agreement.
King, on the other hand, claimed that this
interpretation leads to “‘unreasonable
and illogical’” results; it would require
of King “‘nothing less than ... personal
supervision of Jones’s every action
between the execution of the Agreement
and the scheduled date of the bout against
Lebedev.’”
The court said King could be right that,
under the circumstances, it is possible
that his contractual obligations were too
onerous to be enforceable. Nonetheless,
King agreed to them, and thus “Jones’s
disqualification plainly put King in breach.”
Impossibility Does Not Excuse King’s
Breach
The court then turned to the question
of whether the defense of impossibility
excused King’s breach.
A contract breach can be excused for
impossibility if the breaching party can
show that performance was impossible
on account of a “supervening event”
that was “unanticipated” by the parties.
If the supervening event is foreseeable,
then allocation of the risk associated with
the occurrence of that event should be
expressly addressed in the contract; “‘the
absence of such a provision gives rise to
the inference that the risk was assumed’
by the party whose performance was
frustrated.” In other words, an impossibility
defense only excuses non-performance if
the “‘unanticipated event ... could not have
been foreseen or guarded against in the
contract.’”
King argued that his situation was similar
to that of a case involving a singing group
manager who signed a contract with a
theater owner, promising that the group
would play for two weeks, only to have
the lead singer fall ill on the eve of the first
show. When the theater owner sued for
breach, the New York Court of Appeals
8
February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Continued from page 8:
World of Boxing LLC v. King
excused the manager’s non-performance
on the grounds that “contracts for personal
services”—contracts that require action
by a specific person—“are subject to the
implied condition that ... if the person
dies, or without fault on the part of the
covenantor becomes disabled, the
obligation to perform is extinguished.”
King contended that, by ingesting banned
substances, Jones “disabled” himself from
participating in a WBA-sponsored bout,
thereby “extinguishing” King’s obligation to
perform.
The court was unsympathetic to King’s
plight. New York law is clear that
performance can be excused based
upon an impossibility defense only if the
frustration of performance was “‘produced
by an unanticipated event that could not
have been foreseen or guarded against in
the contract.’” In this case, two key facts
compelled the court’s conclusion that
Jones’s ingestion of furosemide was not
“unanticipated.” First, Jones had a history
of testing positive for furosemide. Second,
the Agreement provided for mandatory prebout drug testing, as required by the WBA,
in light of the prior positive test.
Thus, while King was understandably
frustrated, his argument misconstrued
the term “unanticipated event.” It is not a
matter of how likely it is that an event
will occur, but whether the event is not
something that a reasonable person
would plan for. Even if King was correct
that it was unlikely that Jones would
test positive a second time in light of the
language in the Agreement, the event was
not “unanticipated.”
“A party can be in breach of contract for failing to
comply with an obligation to ‘cause’ an individual to
take or not take certain actions.”
In fact, the court concluded that, based
upon King’s testimony, King had anticipated
the possibility of a second positive test
and, having anticipated it, believed that
“the threat of a mandatory drug test would
ward it off.” But King’s mistaken belief is
no basis for relieving him of his contractual
obligations.
In essence, King argued that he should
not be held liable because, short of
“imprisoning Jones,” there was no way for
King to control Jones’s actions and to make
him perform. But this argument ignores
what was in King’s control: the decision
not to bargain for more protective
contract terms.
Key Takeaways
Agreeing to personally cause a third party
to perform contains risk factors outside
of the promisor’s control. If you make
such an agreement, you should evaluate
and address the anticipated risk factors,
negotiate specific remedies in case those
risks materialize, and, if possible, obtain
your own indemnification from the third
party, the performance of which you are
guaranteeing.
The court in World of Boxing reaches the
following key conclusions under New York
law regarding what is an awkwardly drafted
obligation:
•
A party can be in breach of
contract for failing to comply
with an obligation to “cause”
an individual to take or not take
certain actions.
•
A breach of that obligation will
not be excused under the doctrine
of impossibility unless the
unanticipated event that renders
performance impossible could not
have been foreseen or guarded
against in the contract.
9
February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Continued from page 9:
World of Boxing LLC v. King
Note that including this type of
obligation in a contract is a clumsy way
of holding a party accountable for the
actions or inactions of others. A more
straightforward approach would be,
for example, to provide that one party
must indemnify the other party for
losses arising out of or relating to the
occurrence of certain events or the
existence of certain circumstances.
In this negotiation, it is assumed that WOB
would only agree to the rematch if King
would guarantee Jones’s participation.
King, therefore, faced the risk that Jones
would not perform. However, King could
have acknowledged and addressed this
risk better. For example, King could have
negotiated a specific, limited recovery
amount (or other contractual remedy) if
Jones failed to participate. Moreover, King
could have tried to procure indemnification
directly from Jones as both extra financial
security and as an additional incentive for
Jones to avoid furosemide.
1.
No. 14-03791, 2014 WL 4953605 (S.D.N.Y.
October 1, 2014).
2.
Although it is not relevant to the outcome of
the case, the court does not address whether
Jones signed the Agreement or, if not, how the
Agreement imposed the testing requirement
upon Jones.
Comments to a Basic Confidentiality Obligation
Below is an example of a basic confidentiality and non-use provision from a sample
employment agreement (1) as originally drafted, (2) showing comments, together with
annotated explanations of those comments, and (3) as revised to reflect those comments.
The comments on the provision are limited to comments on the manner of expressing the
concepts in the provision and not on the substance of the provision.
Vincent R. Martorana
Counsel, New York
Corporate & Transactional
Advisory Group
+1 212 549 0418
[email protected]
As Originally Drafted
Confidentiality. Employee agrees that at all times during and after Employee’s employment,
whether for cause or otherwise, Employee will hold in strictest confidence and not disclose
Confidential Information (as defined below) to anyone who is not also employed by the
Company or to any employee of the Company who does not also have access to such
Confidential Information, without express written consent of the President of the Company.
Additionally, Employee is prohibited from using any Confidential Information for Employee’s
own benefit or to the detriment of the Company during Employee’s employment or
thereafter.
With Comments
Confidentiality. Without the express written consent of the Company’s President,1 the2
Employee agrees that at all times during and after Employee’s employment, whether for
cause or otherwise,3 Employee will hold in strictest confidence4 and shall5 not directly or
indirectly disclose any Confidential Information (as defined below)6 to any of the following
individuals:7 (1) anyone who is not an employee of also employed by the Company at the
time of that disclosure or (2) anyone who, at the time of that disclosure, both (x) is an
employee of the Company and who (y) does not also know, does not possess, and does not
have the ability to reasonably obtain access8 to such that Confidential Information- without
express written consent of the President of the Company.9 Additionally10, The Employee
is prohibited from using shall11 not directly or indirectly use any Confidential Information
for Employee’s own benefit12 or to the Company’s detriment of the Company13 during
Employee’s employment or thereafter.14
...continued on page 11
10
February 2015 | Volume 1, Issue 1
Continued from page 10:
1.
Comments to a Basic
Confidentiality Obligation
This language, as placed in the original draft, created ambiguity: it was unclear what text the language
modified. Also, in the interest of being concise, write “the Company’s President” rather than “President of
the Company.”
2.
Precede references to the defined term “Employee” with the word “the.” Doing so improves readability
and is consistent with the usage “the Company.”
3.
If this obligation is to continue forever, then address that point in the termination provision (which should
specify which provisions survive termination of the contract). Absent a provision that expressly or
impliedly terminates an obligation, the obligation continues for so long as the contract is in force.
4.
“will hold in strictest confidence” is rhetoric, which has no place in contracts.
5.
To express an obligation, use “shall” consistently throughout a contract.
6.
There is no need to reference where in the contract a defined term is defined. If the contract is sufficiently
long enough, then include an index provision that cross references all definitions used in the contract.
7.
Make this change to avoid the potential interpretation that the “or” in “to anyone who is not also employed
by the Company or to any employee of the Company” is an “exclusive or.”
8.
It is unclear what having “access” to information means. The standard has been changed to employees
that do not know, do not possess, and do not have the reasonable ability to obtain the Confidential
Information being disclosed. Of course, whether an individual already knows or possesses information,
and whether an individual can reasonably obtain information, is a question of fact.
9.
See footnote 1.
10. “Additionally” is rhetoric, which has no place in contracts.
11. To express an obligation, use “shall” consistently throughout a contract.
12. The Employee will likely need to use Confidential Information in connection with the Employee’s
employment with the Company, which would likely be for the Employee’s benefit. The Company might
wish to retain this prohibition and more-narrowly tailor the circumstances under which the Employee is
permitted to use Confidential Information for the Employee’s benefit. The Company might also wish to
simply prohibit the Employee from using Confidential Information altogether (whether that use is to the
Company’s detriment or otherwise), except as specifically described in the contract.
13. Note that “to the Company’s detriment” is vague. Also, in the interest of being concise, write “the
Company’s detriment” rather than “the detriment of the Company.”
14. See footnote 3.
As Revised
Confidentiality. Without the express written consent of the Company’s President, the
Employee shall not directly or indirectly disclose any Confidential Information to any of
the following individuals: (1) anyone who is not an employee of the Company at the time of
that disclosure or (2) anyone who, at the time of that disclosure, both (x) is an employee of
the Company and (y) does not know, does not possess, and does not have the ability to
reasonably obtain that Confidential Information. The Employee shall not directly or indirectly
use any Confidential Information to the Company’s detriment.
11
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