Interpreting Contracts via Surveys and Experiments

Publication Date


Streaming Media


Interpreting the language of contracts is the most common and least satisfactory task courts perform in contract disputes. In this Chicago’s Best Ideas lecture Professor Strahilevitz proposes to take much of this task out of the hands of lawyers and judges, entrusting it instead to the public. Strahilevitz’s research (written jointly with Professor Ben-Shahar) develops and tests a novel regime — the “survey interpretation method” — in which interpretation disputes are resolved though large surveys of representative respondents, by choosing the meaning that a majority supports. This method has rich potential to examine variations of contractual language that could have made an intended meaning clearer. A similar survey regime has been applied successfully in trademark and unfair competition law to interpret precontractual messages. To demonstrate the technique, Professor Strahilevitz applies the survey interpretation method to several real cases in which courts struggled to interpret contracts.

Lecture Date

January 1, 2018