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Business Law: Contracts

Business Law: Contracts

Professor Frank B. Cross J.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
Course No.  561
Course No.  561
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Course Overview

About This Course

8 lectures  |  46 minutes per lecture

What is a contract? How can you make one binding? How can you avoid being prematurely bound by one? What can you do to get out of a contract? What remedies are available if someone breaches your contract? What special rules apply to international contracts? These questions and the other important issues of legally enforceable promises are covered in the eight lectures of this course.

Contractual agreements are one of the principal mechanisms for ordering life in society. Whether a contract is written or oral, or even implicit, it carries with it all of the duties and obligations that society has endowed with the force of law.

This series of eight lectures lays a comprehensive foundation in the practical and intricate body of law that governs contracts.

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What is a contract? How can you make one binding? How can you avoid being prematurely bound by one? What can you do to get out of a contract? What remedies are available if someone breaches your contract? What special rules apply to international contracts? These questions and the other important issues of legally enforceable promises are covered in the eight lectures of this course.

Contractual agreements are one of the principal mechanisms for ordering life in society. Whether a contract is written or oral, or even implicit, it carries with it all of the duties and obligations that society has endowed with the force of law.

This series of eight lectures lays a comprehensive foundation in the practical and intricate body of law that governs contracts.

Your guide to contracts is Professor Frank B. Cross, Professor of Business Regulation at The University of Texas at Austin and a former attorney with the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, DC.

The Academy of Legal Studies in Business honored Professor Cross as the nation's outstanding professor. The Business Week guide to M.B.A. programs has also recognized him as one of the nation's outstanding teachers.

Professor Cross is the author of more than 30 articles in journals of law, science, policy, and management. He has published four textbooks for business law classes, as well as several other academic books. Professor Cross serves on the editorial boards of four journals, including the American Business Journal.

When Has a Contract Been Made?

Lecture 1 explores the boundaries of contracts in law. It discusses the four main requirements that any contract must satisfy, and it discusses the Uniform Commercial Code of the United States, which incorporated common law about commercial contracts into state statutes.

Lectures 2 and 3 give greater detail about the main components of a contract.

One party makes an offer and the other accepts, refuses, or makes a counteroffer, but there are many possible slips in between. Which offers are binding? Lecture 2 examines the preliminary issues of offer and acceptance, including the ability of parties to negotiate, the definiteness of a contract's terms, and terms of acceptance.

In Lecture 3, we look at three more elements of a binding contract:

  • What each party must give up for a contract to be made ("consideration")
  • Whether and when those of a diminished capacity, such as children or the insane, can make contracts
  • When a contract must be in writing.
When Is a Contract not Binding?

Lectures 4 and 5 consider the possible reasons for declaring contracts void or breached.

When does a mistake by either party or fraud by one of them invalidate a contract? When can a party successfully claim that an agreement was reached under duress? In Lecture 4, you get answers to these questions.

Lecture 5 reviews problems with the performance of a contract, including how much of a performance is required to consider a contract discharged, and other legal reasons for discharge. What conditions will excuse performance?

What can you do when the other side doesn't meet its obligations?

If a contract has been breached, how do the courts decide how much you are owed? Remedies for breaches of contract, and different methods for assessing the fair compensation in such cases, are considered in Lecture 6.

Special Cases: Third-Party and International Contracts

The series concludes with discussions of two unique issues in contract law: third-party rights in contracts and international contracts.

Lecture 7 explains the categories of persons who are legally permitted to enforce agreements to which they are not original contracting parties. These might include beneficiaries of the contract or an assignee of a certain part of a contract. The key questions are these:

  • When can rights under a contract be assigned to someone else?
  • When can a contract that benefits you be enforced by you?

Lecture 8 discusses international contracts and the practical and legal complications arising from them. Simple translation is only the first problem, and there are hundreds of variations on rules among countries. We focus on issues raised by international agreements, letters of credit, and other commercial practices. A discussion of the United Nations Convention on the International Sale of Goods in contrast with U.S. law is included.

Please note:

This course is not intended to provide financial or investment advice. All investments involve risk: Past performance does not guarantee future success. You acknowledge that any reliance on any information from the materials contained in this course shall be at your own risk.

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8 Lectures
  • 1
    Foundations of Contract
    Contract is defined, and the elements and types of contracts are examined. x
  • 2
    Offer and Acceptance
    One party makes an offer and the other accepts, refuses, or makes a counter-offer, but there are many possible slips in between. Which offers are binding? How must acceptance be communicated? x
  • 3
    Consideration, Capacity, and Form
    We look at three more elements of a binding contract, what each party must give up for a contract to be made, whether and when those of a "diminished capacity" can make contracts, and when a contract must be in writing. x
  • 4
    Geniuneness of Assent
    When does a mistake by either party or fraud by one of them invalidate a contract? When can a party successfully claim that an agreement was reached under duress? x
  • 5
    Performance and Discharge
    If you've ever built a house, you have surely wondered what the law requires when a valid contract is in place and one party does not perform to its obligations. What conditions will excuse performance? x
  • 6
    Remedies
    If a contract has been breached, how do the courts decide how much you are owed? x
  • 7
    Third-Party Rights
    When can rights under a contract be assigned to someone else? When can a contract that benefits you be enforced by you? x
  • 8
    International Contracts
    Simple translation is only the first problem and there are hundreds of variations on rules among countries. We focus on issues raised by international agreements, letters of credit, and other commercial practices. x

Lecture Titles

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Frank B. Cross
J.D. Frank B. Cross
The University of Texas at Austin
Professor Frank B. Cross is Professor in the Department of Information, Risk, and Operations Management at The University of Texas at Austin and a former attorney with the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C. He earned his B.A. from the University of Kansas and his J.D. from Harvard Law School. At Texas, Professor Cross has taught undergraduate classes, MBA classes, and executive-education courses in aspects of the legal environment in business. He has been honored as the nation's outstanding professor by the Academy of Legal Studies in Business. He was recognized as a top teacher by the Business Week guide to MBA programs. Professor Cross has authored many publications, including more than 30 articles in journals of law, science, policy, and management. He has published four textbooks for business law classes, as well as several other academic books. Professor Cross serves on the editorial boards of four journals, including the American Business Journal.
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Reviews

Rated 4.5 out of 5 by 29 reviewers.
Rated 2 out of 5 by Lacking explainations This course was a disappointment. Professor Cross just gives one example after another without much explanation of the concepts he is trying to teach. He doesn’t make any attempt to explain how small change in the example could lead to a different outcome, so I didn’t get a feel for where the line is drawn. The individual lectures also aren’t well organized, they are more like he showed up and was told to talk about a subject for 40 minutes without any preparation. December 21, 2012
Rated 5 out of 5 by Presenting law at its best This short course offers a beautiful and even exciting introduction to business contract law, a subject that before listening to these lectures I would have considered dry at best. Professor Cross presents an excellent mixture of basic definitions and what the laws say with real-life as well as hypothetical examples and does so in an engaging style that is peppered with humor so that the lectures are both informative and entertaining and fly by in no time. Together with the comprehensive guide book the course is an excellent starting point for one’s own further exploration of contract law. Being one of the older courses it still has the more intimate relationship between presenter and audience (showing up in slight technical “imperfections” like audience noise). However, I found that these imperfections together with Professor Cross’ informal (but fluent) presentation style lead to a more personal, i. e. real class-room-like, atmosphere and greatly add to its liveliness and immediacy, fostering both my engagement with and comprehension of the lectures. I would encourage the Teaching Company to offer more such relatively narrowly focused courses on other areas of the law. March 11, 2012
Rated 4 out of 5 by Effective introduction to contract law I'm not a lawyer but have often wondered whether I would have liked law school had I chosen that path. I can't answer that hypothetical, but I can say that I would have liked Professor Cross as a teacher. In these lectures, he instructs clearly and illustrates concepts with useful examples, including both the real (from case law) and the fanciful. The course is structured effectively so that later lectures build upon what has been explained earlier. Cross's sense of humor, his knack for the compelling anecdote, and his enthusiasm for the subject shine throughout. It should go without saying, but this is a course about contracts, so one needs to have at least some interest in the subject matter. While I imagine these lectures represent a streamlined and simplified version of what one might experience in law school, they are still serious expositions rather than breezy entertainments. One can tell both from the audio quality and the cultural references (e.g., Cindy Crawford, Joey Buttafuoco, Lorena Bobbit, etc.) that this is an older course. (I believe it was produced in 1994, which must make it one of the oldest courses still on offer in the Teaching Company collection.) This obvious "datedness" does not distract, though, from the course's quirky charm and the core strength of its lectures. January 5, 2012
Rated 3 out of 5 by Ho-Hum Unfortunately, I really struggled to get through this course. The lecturer's presentation seemed adequate, but the material was just too dry. I think if this course was redone into 30-minute segments, it would be easier to digest September 18, 2011
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