If you have a problem that could result in a lawsuit, it’s not too late to think creatively about the essential components of contract theory. I see contract thinking as a tool for ferreting out unfulfilled expectations. Even if a prior contract is in place, when differences arises about its application or interpretation, exploring a revision or a new agreement will transform a dialogue that might otherwise lead to conflict and litigation. Here are some ideas about how to “unpack” a potential tension or dispute with creative contract thinking.

Identify misunderstandings that result in unfulfilled expectations:
Perhaps you have an agreement with someone. It may be in writing, or verbal, or even implied by your respective conduct; three very different routes to the “meeting of minds” that a court would recognize as a “valid contract.” A contract is an agreement containing three elements; legal purpose, complementary responsibilities, and a term or time frame.

If you’d like to have a strategy that respects your legal interests, it may warrant speaking with a lawyer. But you don’t have to turn your affairs over to professional management. Just as asking a doctor for his diagnosis without seeking treatment, you can get ideas from lawyers, often for free if you meet to consider hiring them. You can meet several lawyers this way, and perhaps retain someone as a coach. If their rates are pricey, find a retired lawyer at half the cost, and pay the pricey one for 10-minute calls. And sometimes it doesn’t hurt to know what your mother thinks. Remember, you don’t have to do what either of them tells you.

Jerry Green, J.D. is a retired lawyer-mediator, now consulting and living in Sebastopol. For details about seminars and self-help clinics that apply legal and dispute resolution strategies to individual interests and needs, email [email protected].