Friday, April 9, 2021
Every semester when I teach contracts, students come to me to ask me whether I can recommend outside materials that will: (a) help them understand the material ("no offense!") and (b) provide practice essay and multiple-choice questions. Every semester I am stumped. I use my own contracts materials rather than a casebook, but I already assign Brian Blum's Contracts: Examples and Explanations (now out in a spiffy new 8th edition!), which should certainly help explain the doctrine and provides practice essays. Beyond that, I don't regularly review such materials myself, so I have no idea which materials are good.
So, I put the question to our wonderful contracts listserv, and I can now share some of my colleagues' recommendations with my students and with the blog-following world. I started by sharing my usual response to students who ask me about study guides. It runs as follows:
If you have questions about doctrine, you should feel free to ask me. If you want sample essays and multiple choice questions, I give you some of both. Although I don't ask you to turn in your essays for a grade, you are welcome to turn them in for comments at any time. We also go over a lot of problems from the Blum book, so that's a lot more opportunity to get practice writing essays in the IRAC form that I prefer (subject of a separate speech).
If that's not enough, as far as I know, all of the outside materials available to you are pretty good. They tend to be written by people who know the law well, and if a book is in its fifth edition, that's a pretty good indication that it is not filled with glaring errors.
However, there is a danger in going to outside sources. First, those outside sources tend to be as comprehensive as possible. They are trying to survey the universe of contracts law, while I am focused on the topics that, as far as I know, you are most likely to encounter on the bar exam. They will cover topics that I don't cover or they will cover topics in more detail than I do. Also, they may organize the material differently or, more confusing still, use different terms than the ones I use.
But look, if you think that you will have a better understanding of the material if you consult outside sources, you should do so. Everybody learns their own way, and you have to do what works for you. If you come across materials in the secondary sources that seem different from what I have said, please talk to me about it. I'm interested to see other perspectives on the doctrine and perfectly willing to concede that there are other approaches that may be better than mine. That said, if you come across material that seems completely new to you, please don't panic. It may just be something that I don't cover. The best way to be sure is to show me the secondary sources that you are using, and we can figure out what's going on together.
I recommend the usual suspects for extra multiple choice questions. I know there are banks on CALI, and the Lexis Q&A series is reliably good. I have mixed feelings about the quiz banks available from venders like BarBri, Kaplan, and Themis. On the one hand, I have every reason to think that they have a better idea of what actual bar questions will look like than I do. On the other hand, I have found mistakes in their questions that suggest that their questions are not always written by people who really know the law of contracts. Again, the best approach is to use their questions -- I assume that most of them are good -- but if you come across a question that doesn't make sense, even after you have read the answer, show it to me and we can talk it through.
I shared this answer with my fellow contracts profs with some trepidation. To my relief, most of the responses indicated that a lot of my colleagues give similar answers to their students who ask for recommendations for outside materials. However, some of my colleagues also had more specific suggestions that seem like really great advice.
Since this post is already too long, I will share that advice in a second post on Monday.