Seminar on legal English: Contract Law

This was a great seminar on legal English and contract law given by Stuart Bugg, who is a NZ and English lawyer (he was born in Yorkshire, which I didn’t know) and run by the Regensburg section of the BDÜ. It was on March 24th and lasted all day.

Actually I have stopped writing up seminars, because it can be invidious: one finishes up either being unintentionally nasty or stealing all their good material. So I will be brief. Everything about this seminar was excellent, especially the good materials and the relaxed atmosphere which allowed us to have a good discussion on a number of points while at the same time snaffling about 100 pages of good stuff. Probably seminar leaders know that we translators never find time to read them afterwards. The organization was also very good – coffee and lunch breaks on time and ran very smoothly.

Here are some pictures of the venue (Thon-Dittmer Palais) and the place for lunch:

Stuart Bugg is one of the authors of the Langenscheidt-ALPMANN Fachwörterbuch Kompakt Recht, which has come out in a second edition since I referred to it. He has also published Contracts in English – an introductory guide to understanding, using and developing “Anglo-American” style contracts. I had a look at this in advance and was impressed. You can see the table of contents at the link above. Stuart specializes in contracts and contract law and refers to all common-law jurisdictions. My only criticism of the book so far is that over one-third of it consists of texts like the Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act 1943 which can be found on the internet. The reason for this, as I have mentioned before, is that the book is partly directed at lawyers, and German lawyers are often kept on a short leash as far as using the internet and CD-ROMs is concerned, so they like to have stuff in books. Stuart confirmed this and said the software can mess up the internal IT systems.

Now I don’t want to go into any detail, and indeed, I’ve got to find time to process all my notes and the materials while it’s fresh in my mind. But some notes, partly on things I need to think about:

1. Stuart said that when he translates a German contract into English, English lawyers tend to think it’s wrong. Exactly! If an English lawyer thinks your translation sounds like an English contract, something is amiss. We also discuss liability. I don’t translate a contract unless it says the language and law governing it are German – because if I were to convert a German text into a common-law one, I would be acting as a lawyer, and I am neither registered nor insured for that. Stuart said that there is a third clause: the jurisdiction should be Germany too, since otherwise you might land up in the Saudia Arabia courts, albeit with German law as the basis.

2. Must give more thought to the terminology of ending contracts, which has been pursuing me for a few decades now. We talked about rescission and also about cancellation (avoid the latter term).

3. Gewährleistung (a term I think the BGB has done away with), Garantie, warranty, Bürgschaft: another can of worms.

4. Must investigate what deeds are in the USA. I thought specialty contracts were only valid in England and that deeds in the USA were just smoke and mirrors for clients, but apparently I was wrong and you do need a deed in the USA to convey land. I may come back to this.

5. Got a bit tied up on how to translate §. Because of course, it’s one thing translating § in a statute, but another in a contract. I tend to leave the §, which is probably stupid, since it confuses some British people (but what doesn’t?). It comes up both in a heading and when referred to later (clause?)

6. Differences between damages (only monetary) and Schadensersatz. (I was a bit surprised to see a recent online translation of the Zivilprozessordnung using damages to mean Schäden).

7. Translating Vertragsstrafe – not as liquidated damages, because that would imply the complete sum.

8. Apparently Germans confuse arbitrary and arbitral, haha!

9. Many had no idea what bailment is. Of course, easily confused with bail and bailiff.

10. We discussed shall and will and must a lot. Agree that will and shall are both binding in contracts. Sure enough, I almost immediately got a contract a client had altered, using will in the added bits where I had used shall in the rest. Not a big problem, but I decided it would be safer to stick to one throughout.

And here is a contemporary pillar at Regensburg Station (one of several):

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