K is for Contract―Why is it, Though?

15 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2021

See all articles by Hanjo Hamann

Hanjo Hamann

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods

Date Written: July 11, 2021

Abstract

Just like Supreme Court justices, law students in the United States almost unanimously abbreviate the word “contract” using the capital letter K. Despite this consensus, no writer has ever explained why a word that starts with “c” should be abbreviated to “K” instead. The present paper investigates this question, following threads of legal discourse into various interconnected societal contexts―including Boston high society, 19th century baseball, German intellectual property law, the neuroscience of sleep, and Civil War contract management. I show that the K-for-Contract convention probably originated between 1900 and 1949, and may have come, of all places, from satirical military lingo. In arriving at this finding, the present essay offers an intriguing case study of legal narratology and the propagation of lawyerly conventions. By empirically surveying contract law professors to trace the origins of K-for-Contract, the study also shows that even seasoned instructors who use and teach this legal shorthand can no longer justify its usage. This proves to be an instructive illustration of boilerplate effects, or what one Contracts professor called the “arcane underpinnings of the rules we all follow.”

Keywords: contract law, legal education, legal shorthand, conventionalization, stickiness

JEL Classification: K00,K12,K49,N30

Suggested Citation

Hamann, Hanjo, K is for Contract―Why is it, Though? (July 11, 2021). Minnesota Law Review 106 (2022) online companion (Headnotes), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3919584

Hanjo Hamann (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )

Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, 53113
Germany

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