In a world where contract law, as typically taught, has one foot in the quicksand of the past, Lawrence Cunningham’s Contracts in the Real World is a most welcome and liberating alternative. Just consider the domain of what is commonly offered up:
* sales of “Blackacre” circa the 18th and 19th centuries,
* sailing ships destined for Liverpool circa 1864,
* carloads of Mason green fruit jars circa 1899,
* a promise to pay ₤100 to anyone who contracted the flu after using a “Carbolic Smoke Ball,” circa late 19th century,
* a 12-word “contract of sale” penned on the back of a “counter check,” circa early 1950s,
* a material breach case about a dispute over the brand of pipe (Reading or Cohoes) to be used in the construction of a home (circa early 1920s),
* representations made in 1959 in connection with a grocery “chain” begun in 1922 (by 2010 the “chain” was down to a lone store in Green Bay, Wisc.),
* promises re an option to buy a ranch, circa 1960s, and
* a 1965 contract involving the 78 year-old actress Shirley MacLaine (co-star of the 1960 movie The Apartment).
One need not be wed to Henry Ford’s maxim that “history is bunk” to appreciate that much of what is presented in contracts casebooks is past tense, past perfect, and past its time. While such an approach to teaching contracts may be a boon to slothful professors averse to updating their class notes, it does little to prepare today’s law students for the challenges facing them in the 2012 marketplace of digital deals.
Given the yester-world of many contracts casebooks, it is refreshing to have a book that brings modernity onto the stage of legal education. While Professor Cunningham pays due deference to the canonical cases (e.g., Lawrence v. Fox, N.Y., 1859), he does so in ways that reveal their contemporary relevance (e.g., as in how that precedent applied to a 2005 Wal-Mart dispute). Moreover, what is so stimulating about his book is that Cunningham highlights the law relevant to current business dealings of everyone from Bernard Madoff and Donald Trump to Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton, and 50 Cent, too. There is even a case involving a dispute over the rights to the HBO TV series The Sopranos.
Likewise, Cunningham both identifies and understands the real-world contexts of modern contract law involving everything from electronic transactions and confidentiality of information, to agreements re season tickets subscriptions for sports events, to entertainment contracts, to Amazon’s provider contracts, to any variety of contemporary non-disclosure agreements, et cetera.
In all of these ways and many others, Contracts in the Real World stands alone as a work that ushers the law of contracts into our times.
At the risk of sounding unduly laudatory, this book was a joy to read. Both stylistically and substantively, it is a work of admirable achievement without a real rival. When one offers such acclaim, there is a corresponding obligation to justify it. Hence, permit me to explain my evaluation, at least in summary fashion. Read More