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’.
Hamann, Hanjo, K is for Contract – Why is it, Though? (July 11, 2021). Minnesota Law Review 106 (2022) online companion (Headnotes).