Deal Structure

53 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2017 Last revised: 13 Mar 2018

See all articles by Cathy Hwang

Cathy Hwang

University of Virginia School of Law

Matthew Jennejohn

Columbia Law School; Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School

Date Written: December 1, 2017


Modern commercial contracts - those governing mergers & acquisitions and financial derivatives, for instance - have become structurally complex and interconnected. Yet contract law largely ignores structural complexity. This Article develops a theory of “contractual structuralism” to explain the important role of structure in every aspect of contract law, from the design of a contract to courts’ interpretation and enforcement.

For generations, scholars have debated whether a court should consider only the text of a contract or also consider broader context to determine parties’ intent. More recently, scholars have shown that parties can choose between textual and contextual interpretation by drafting a contract provision as a rule or a standard. Rules signal that parties have fully thought through the issues and a court should interpret textually, and standards signal the need for further contextual exploration.

This Article builds upon that pioneering work to make two contributions to the literature. First, it provides the first comprehensive account of structural complexity in modern contracting, and explains how modern contract designers use structure to advance their goals. Second, it shows how the design of contract structure can influence interpretation. Contracts have grown - in scope, length, and complexity - and provisions are no longer strictly rules or strictly standards. Rather, they bleed into and interact with one another, complicating parties’ ability to always pair textualist enforcement with a rule and contextualist enforcement with a standard. Tweaking deal structure provides contract designers another way, beyond using a rule or standard, to nudge courts toward a particular interpretive mode. Specifically, structural isolation of provisions - a modular contract structure - is required for the kind of toggling between textualism and contextualism that other scholars have envisioned. Understanding how a contract’s parts are put together - the structure of the contract - is important to understanding how to design contacts, and can greatly influence how courts interpret contracts.

Suggested Citation

Hwang, Cathy and Jennejohn, Matthew, Deal Structure (December 1, 2017). Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 112, No. 2, 2018, Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University Working Paper No. 231, University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 229, BYU Law Research Paper No. 17-32, Available at SSRN: or

Cathy Hwang (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Matthew Jennejohn

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Brigham Young University - J. Reuben Clark Law School ( email )

436 JRCB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
United States
9175093028 (Phone)

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