The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
If you (or someone you know) are starting law school in the fall, you (or he or she) will have to take Contracts. May I recommend my short—and inexpensive—paperback, Contracts? I was prompted to post this by an email I received this morning from someone who will be starting as a law student in the fall:
My name is [omitted] and I will begin law school at [omitted] next month. I am writing to you for the sole purpose of saying that I thoroughly enjoyed your book. I believe the descriptions and explanations you gave coupled with the cases you chose for examples granted me a better understanding of this area of law, and I hope that by reading your book I will be more prepared for classes starting in the coming weeks.
Thank you for the experience.
Contracts was written to provide law students with an accessible overview of contract law principles and doctrines. In short, after teaching contracts for 30 years, this is the way I understand how the basic doctrines operate and why. Indeed, it was based on my teaching notes. Of course, other contracts professors may disagree, and I would never recommend hewing to my view if your professor holds another. But most contracts professors are not themselves contracts scholars and are not deeply committed to any particular view of contract law.
This book provides a conceptual overview that, I believe, will help a student make sense of the myriad contracts doctrines as they come flying at you. It is something one can read in a day or two before classes begin and make casual reference to during the course. Here is the publisher's description:
Written by a leading expert in the field, The Oxford Introductions to U.S. Law: Contracts provides students with ready access to the basic doctrines of contract law, the story behind their evolution, and the rationales for their continued existence. An engaging book that allows students to grasp the "big picture" of contract law, it is organized around the principle that lies at the heart of contracts: consent. Beginning with the premise of "consent," the book provides a cohesive framework in which to understand the various aspects of contract law.
Here are the two blurbs from the dust jacket:
Professor Barnett's book offers a unique—and uniquely valuable—tool for students and teachers of contract law alike. It succeeds in introducing the law of contract in a way that makes it accessible, interesting, and philosophically rich.—Dori Kimel, University of Oxford
This book is a masterpiece of lucidity, erudition and analytic rigor that will quickly become the standard supplementary work for contracts courses. It is, moreover, so compellingly, yet charmingly written that students, as well as many of their professors, will soon come to accept Barnett's book as the orthodox statement of the consent-based approach to contract law.—Claire Finkelstein, University of Pennsylvania
Then there is this from a student (not one of mine) posted on Amazon.com:
This is the absolute best source for a 1L contracts class. It's new and not by one of the big supplement brands, so its almost entirely unknown. Barnett helped me see the big picture in this course, understanding that the notion of Assent is at the center of the whole doctrine. Couldn't recommend it more. Good to combine with E&E, so that you get a sense of the underlying policies, but also practice some concrete issue spotting.
As other Amazon readers note, this is an especially valuable tool if the professor is using my casebook. But most of the classic cases and doctrines I discuss are covered in all contracts courses.
CAVEATS: As these comments make clear, I do view consent as at the heart of contract law, and believe that existing doctrines can best be understood in this light. But so do most contracts professors. And, like other professors, in the book I stress the limits of consent. Moreover, in the book I also identify and discuss alternative views. Now there will be some contracts professors who are committed to a different view. If you end up with one of these, however, I still think it is useful to have the "other side" in mind in order to properly process their preferred construct. Even if a professor "teaches theory" and "deconstructs doctrine" in the classroom, they inevitably "test doctrine" by expecting it to be applied on the exam. Having an overview might help avoid becoming lost in the weeds of a classroom critique.
You can consider this book like an "opening statement" in a jury trial that provides an overview of the case so the jurors can properly assess individual bits of evidence as they are introduced. So, if you or someone you know will be taking contact law on the fall, you might want to click on this link: