The 10 Best Contract Law Books
This wiki has been updated 18 times since it was first published in December of 2016. If you are in law school or studying to become a paralegal, you are going to need one or more of these books. Contract law is a complicated field, so we've included a few options that will take both new students and laypeople through the basics using simple language, along with some more advanced editions for those well into their studies or getting ready for employment. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
December 11, 2020:
During our latest update, we wanted to maintain the balance our list had between options good for beginning students, laypeople, professionals, and entrepreneurs, as well as advanced students. While many concepts in US contract law remain the same year after year, the law is not static, and so we wanted to bring on a few texts revised or written in the last two years or so. We felt we could say goodbye to Contract Law for Legal Professionals to make room for the more recent Principles of Contract Law. This one covers all the foundational aspects you need to know and uses an informal style to get the point across without needless filler or jargon. It's been revised thoroughly for obtuse language to ensure things are crystal clear and has plenty of examples and illustrations.
We also decided to remove Contracts: The Essential Business Desk Reference. Although it can still be helpful, much of what is included in it can be found online or in other texts, and we felt the spot would be better served with something that actively teaches the reader important concepts. That void was filled by Contract Drafting and Negotiation, an option aimed toward entrepreneurs. It was written by an attorney who has served as in-house general counsel to twelve different companies across industries, with a career negotiating and documenting commercial contracts. It's a pretty breezy read and covers all the basics with the businessperson in mind, going over risks and hazards and attempting to protect key interests of both parties without blockading deals. Business professionals looking to get briefed on the ins and outs of the legal system may also want to pick up one of these business law textbooks.
Among the other changes we made was bringing Gilbert Law Summaries on Contracts to its most recent 15th edition. This one is a great supplement to coursework but isn't meant to be a standalone textbook, so be sure to grab something more robust as well. If you're new to all this, The Law of Contracts and the Uniform Commercial Code is geared toward the learner who has very little knowledge in the subject, making it great for beginners but tedious if you already have some background.
March 20, 2019:
Contract law is a confusing area for not just students and laymen, but also many practicing attorneys as well. Reading one of these texts, or at least keeping them on hand for reference can be very helpful. If you are currently in school, say your first or second year, Concepts and Case Analysis in the Law of Contracts, The Oxford Introductions to U.S. Law: Contracts and Gilbert Law Summaries on Contracts are great options as they will relate to much of what you are currently learning in your coursework. Working With Contracts, Examples & Explanations for Contracts, and The Law of Contracts and the Uniform Commercial Code are ideal for those nearing graduation, or ex-students who have just graduated, since they do a very good job of preparing you for actual practice. For the laymen out there, whether they be business professionals who often sign documents and want a better understanding of the many confusing terms or somebody who is planning to enter a formal law education soon, we have included Contract Law For Dummies and Contracts: The Essential Business Desk Reference, as these are easy to digest and written in simple English without getting overly technical. Paralegals will be best served by Contract Law for Legal Professionals and Basic Contract Law For Paralegals.
Coursera American Contract Law I This free, self-paced online course from Yale through Coursera is ideal for anyone interested in pursuing a career in this field. It provides a comprehensive overview of contract law in the United States and covers most of the key concepts found in a first-year law school class. Each lecture is based on one or more common-law cases, and integrates legal doctrines with policy discussions. The course also examines sections from the Uniform Commercial Code, and take about 33 hours to complete. coursera.org
Udemy If you're a layperson or entrepreneur looking to get a crash course in a particular branch of contract law, Udemy has an array of online classes available. Everything from business law to freelancing, cohabitation, and sale of goods is covered, with some express courses lasting only 60 minutes. udemy.com
Avvo Avvo is a website founded by a lawyer that works to make it easier for everyday people to understand the law and find representation. If you have a legal question, they provide a free service where you can submit an anonymous query and get a reply in as little as twelve hours. They also have helpful articles, a blog, and Q&A's from other people who have had questions answered in the past. avvo.com
Why You Need A Contract
There are myriad reasons why you’d want to backup your dealings with a legally binding document.
We expect lawyers and paralegals to be extremely well-versed in the complexities of contract law, but they aren’t the only ones who need to have some familiarity with the subject. Everything from running a small business to selling a car and even accepting a job offer can involve entering an ironclad agreement with another party. There are myriad reasons why you’d want to backup your dealings with a legally binding document.
To start, they provide peace of mind. If you’re offering your services to a person or corporation in exchange for payment, you can rely on a written agreement to literally spell out what each side must contribute, that way there’s no misinterpretation. You can breathe easy knowing that you can take legal action and sue for breach of contract if someone attempts to violate your terms. Hopefully, it will never come to that, but in the event that it does, your contract will be there to protect you from exploitation. It can also foresee and offer solutions to potential problems, so you don’t have to figure it all out yourself when the time comes for arbitration.
They also offer clarification. The law is endlessly complicated, and different people might interpret it in various ways. The nice thing about a binding understanding is that it boils everything down to simple, non-negotiable terms. It provides a set outline of rules that suit your personal situation, which makes it easier for you to comprehend and abide by them.
As far as verbal contracts are concerned, they actually are enforceable. However, they’re not nearly as ironclad as a written agreement, and they’re much harder to prove. One might hold up in court if you have substantial evidence to back up your claims, but it’s better to avoid going down that road if you can. You may end up in a nasty dispute that will drain you of time and money, so do your best to brief yourself on contract law with one of the books on our list or by seeking professional legal advice.
What To Look For In A Contract Law Book
Regardless of whether you’re a student or an entrepreneur, there are a few key points you’ll need your contract law book to touch on. You should expect it to include a comprehensive overview of the subject and its origins, plus cover concepts like intent, third party contracts, and the Uniform Commercial Code. It needs to outline how to draft a simple contract and prove its terms in court, and it should expertly enumerate defenses, remedies, and what constitutes a breach.
Don't overlook the writing style either — just as with any textbook, fluid prose will be much easier to understand than clunky text.
From a studying standpoint, it's smart to look for a tome that's laid out in a clear and concise manner. Non-essential explanations, dense blocks of text, and unexplained industry jargon are the hallmarks of an inadequate textbook. Pedagogy like vocabulary boxes, an extensive index, and exercises are vital to absorbing the material. It's helpful to have sample contracts and input from professionals in the field, so you can compare what you've learned to real-life situations. Don't overlook the writing style either — just as with any textbook, fluid prose will be much easier to understand than clunky text.
Initial summaries can prime you on what you’re about to learn, while end-of-chapter exercises will help you analyze the concepts you’ve uncovered. Your book should also work to prepare you for testing. Review problems and sample exam questions can get you in the right frame of mind, and a detailed glossary will enable you to go over tricky terms quickly. If you’re a visual learner, you're bound to benefit from an uncluttered layout rife with handy charts and tables that serve to break things up.
Some publishers supplement their books with online learning materials and companion websites. You can expect to access things like practice exams and interactive games that test your knowledge and help you set goals. You may also find pre-created flashcards, guided discussions, and summarized notes that reinforce key terms. If you're an internet-savvy student, these complementary tools could prove indispensable to you.
A Brief History Of Contracts
For a society to exchange goods and services, it needs to have a set of rules that protect its citizens from theft and abuse. This necessity for accountability has been around for as long as humans have traded with each other.
If you didn't have a witness, you needed to prove that your aggressor had disturbed the King's peace somehow.
In The Laws, the Greek philosopher Plato identifies a few fundamental categories for how to cancel an agreement. The Romans went further by forming special regulations for separate kinds of contractual transactions. One of the most basic types was an oral contract known as stipulatio. It required the use of specific words, and each party needed to be able to understand the deal and have the free will to make it.
If you were a peasant in medieval England, the likelihood that you might enter a contract and have any power to enforce it was laughable. If you had some status, you were still incentivized to solve disputes on your own, as the court system was rather limited. For instance, if you wanted to contest a payment, you could grab a witness and head to court to swear an oath. However, if you lost the case you risked perjury. If you didn't have a witness, you needed to prove that your aggressor had disturbed the King's peace somehow. Without strict scrutiny, local courts could choose to uphold the law in whichever way they pleased and were often biased and inconsistent.
Contract law didn’t start to resemble what it is today until the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Rather than toil away for rent or learn a craft, workers headed to factories to operate machinery and receive cash for their trouble. This created an entirely new relationship between employers and staff, and the law needed to catch up to support the various agreements being made between them. As industrialization spread throughout the West, each country developed its own brand of contract law.