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Monday, October 22, 2012

Larry Cunningham Responds, Part II: Method for Contracts in the Real World

Lawrence A. Cunningham is the Henry St. George Tucker III Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School.  He is also the author of Contracts in the Real World.

The following post is cross-posted from an online symposium that previously appeared on Concurring Opnions.  The original post can be found here.

Before wrapping up the symposium about Contracts in the Real World, this is the second of two posts on main themes drawn by the wonderful contributions.  This one concerns methodology, the book’s approach, content and organization—and what more might be done in pursuit of such a new model of pedagogy.

The approach of using contemporary examples to illuminate venerable principles and classic cases seems warmly received, for many different reasons, elaborated in many different ways by all the contributors, including two students.  It is nice to know the many different ways in which the book has spoken to readers. The value of that reach was summed up best, perhaps, by Nancy, when she stressed that retaining student attention is at least half the battle in law teaching.

Real WorldI appreciated Tom’s point that reading this book does not feel like work in the way that reading many teaching books can. As Nancy, Don and Ron stated explicitly and others noted implicitly, the current teaching environment imposes new demands on teachers of contracts (really profs throughout the law school and much of the university). Finding ways to draw students in is vital.

Worth expanding on a bit are Erik’s interesting observations about the book’s layout and compatibility with given casebooks. Susan referenced having assigned Contracts in the Real World as a companion to the Dawson, Harvey, Henderson, Baird casebook, which I have used many times, including during the period when I was writing this. My selections of potential stories, and how to build them (in the ways Dave and Jake and others helpfully explained) was initially strongly influenced by that book.

But I wanted to be sure it fit with others. So I carefully examined a dozen of the most popular casebooks and prepared correlation charts between my discussions and those books.  I tried to fill in the connections by drawing on the most often reprinted cases. I tried to find the most interesting stories that could connect to them. I ended up with more than 100 stories in various draft forms and settled on the 45 that are in the book.

That process and inventory posed a challenge concerning organization and sequencing. But it also gave me the advantage of freedom—not being wedded to any given table of contents. Erik notes the effect when he compares my organization to that of the casebook he uses: expanding a reader’s understanding.

There should be other books in this line. I appreciate Jennifer’s suggestion that this could be a stand alone teaching text for a law school course, but Miriam Cherry and I envision a more complete coursebook being built out of this one.   Several publishers have expressed interest in such a project and we are working to develop it. Much of the organization would follow that of Contracts in the Real World, with “main cases” or “main deals” consisting of opinions or contracts summarized there, along with the supporting classic cases now found in most books.

It would be a coursebook, as Ron imagines, and could well include the effort to discern questions, to which Don referred, such as “what were they trying to do?” and “was this a good way to do it?” It will continue the bridge-building between worlds that Tom applauded. I think it would be wonderful to include, in the book or in an on-line companion, as Erik suggests, the text of at least some of the contracts for inspection.  In preparing Contracts in the Real World, I obtained every contract that I could and have them in electronic form. I hasten to add that not every one of them would prove to be a useful teaching tool, but many would.

It is also important, I believe, as Don and Erik both suggested, to give many more examples of deals not resolved in court—such as the Conan-NBC deal and many others discussed in the book. We will try to develop case study modules to present such material in a way that both works within the prevailing law school teaching model and advances pedagogical imperatives.

[Posted by JT]

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