Business Law: Contracts

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

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
 |  Average 47 minutes each
  • 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
    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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  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

Frank B. Cross

About Your Professor

Frank B. Cross, J.D.
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...
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Business Law: Contracts is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 47.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting, informative and listenable This course was very informative in that it teaches you the basics of what a contract is and how many ways people have found ways to break one without penalty. It shows you how the law is constantly evolving. I have a better understanding of what a contract is, how to read them and what to look for before signing. This is a course well worth buying and listening to and then listening to again after some time to refresh yourself. This should be in conjunction with Business Law: Negligence and Torts.
Date published: 2015-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introduction to Contracts This course is taught based on real life: that is, there may be laws that are written, but they don't really mean anything until they are tested in court. Cross presents the basics of contract law and then presents cases illustrating the law and gives insights on why cases were decided the way they were. This course taught me: 1. What is a contract? I thought I knew. Now I know better. 2. All the different ways contracts become valid and remain valid. 3. How contracts are broken and, more importantly, when they are not broken. 4. How careful one has to be when dealing internationally. Cross educated me while also being entertaining. It is interesting that he didn't seem to plan the lectures precisely because he seems to fit in as many example cases as he has time to squeeze in. That is, he'll say that we have time for a few examples, or we have time for one more case... That being said, it never seemed like he left out any of the explanations and there were always a few examples. I do wish he could have added another lecture or two with more case examples. The examples he chose really showed how strange our system is and the often odd cases that arise and I really enjoyed that aspect of the course. I also enjoyed the other Business Law course; see the link below.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent example of what a course should be! Clearly, from the rating, I thought that this course was well organized, well structured and very well presented. I found Professor Cross very easy to listen to. As part of my MBA program, I took a much longer business law course some years ago; as a former government acquisition official, I took courses in government contract law (but now we are talking about decades ago). I found this to be an excellent review and refreshed key points in my mind. I found the small examples to be helpful. One can, of course, desire or use longer ones, but then the salient points can get lost in the details. I thought that Professor Cross did a great job as selecting examples - ones that made the point and made the course more real. It is interesting that some courses are 30-minute lectures and others 45 minute ones. I think that in this case, the 45 minute allowed the time to cover the material and to include an effective summary at the end of each session. I thought that the 45 minutes went quickly, oh so quickly. There is another thing that I learned, though, that is not at all correlated with business law. In my now retired life, I teach professional development courses (about a dozen per year); these are unrelated to contract law. Professor Cross' approach of reviewing with small examples felt like a good approach to having me do the review work. While each instructor must use his or hers own personal style - being true to ones self - there are concepts here that I will experiment with in my activities. Maybe they will work for me, maybe not, but I will certainly experiment with some of these. I will listen to this again!!!
Date published: 2015-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course!! Frank Cross is outstanding! This is one of the three best courses I have purchased from the Teaching Company. Professor Cross - please add to this series - it is invaluable for people who want to learn about the law.
Date published: 2014-10-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2012-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2012-03-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 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.
Date published: 2012-01-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from 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
Date published: 2011-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Contracts Made Entertaining Professor Cross does a great job at presenting a serious subject in a lighthearted way. His delivery reminds me of Gabe Kaplan in "Welcome Back Kotter". To see the difference between learning this subject from an engaging speaker and just reading about it from a lifeless outline, try reading the course notes first! They're thorough but boring! Cross on the other hand has you chuckling and chortling but never losing interest. This course demonstrates the true power of the Teaching Company concept: it's easier to learn by listening to real people. Be warned, this is a real period piece. Clinton is still president, Lorena Bobbit is still in the news and Michael Jackson is not only alive but popular.
Date published: 2011-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practically Essential I recommend this course with some URGENCY, because I assume it might soon be discontinued. (I bought it on CD a while ago, but it's now available only on downloads.) I think virtually every of-age American ought to hear this course: Perhaps no other Great Course offers so much practical use. The overall quality of instruction is excellent, and Professor Cross is definitely listenable and engaging--even entertaining. This is a fine and very cost-effective way to learn the essentials of contracts. I do not say it's perfect: It has somewhat less "polish" than many of the other Great Courses--a result of their being much more closely scripted than this one. (But, then, I think that makes this course more engaging and listenable than some other courses.) Some of it seems a bit rushed and unresolved, with a few of the concepts (e.g., unilateral contracts) made somewhat less than completely clear. Nevertheless, I don't know of a better primer on this important area of law. It's very good indeed. Though many of the Great Courses have excellent course guidebooks, I found this one to be unusually good, especially for its series of review questions and (very helpful) answers. I like this course. I regret that it's no longer available on CD, and I recommend it to you.
Date published: 2011-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understandable Law Professor Cross makes the ins and outs of contracts and contract law very understandable. He clearly explains various aspects of the elements of a contract and the different kinds of contracts. In addition to this he is very funny! When he gives examples he uses celebrity names that, in addition to making you laugh, make the material stick with you!
Date published: 2010-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great introduction I was interested in basic information about contract law because of problems I've had with contracts in the past and this was excellent. My biggest fear is that it would be dry and I wouldn't be able to get through the course. But Professor Cross is entertaining as well as informative and the course flew by : )
Date published: 2009-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great intro! I needed to understand contracts for a work assignment and I started here. I was not disappointed!
Date published: 2009-08-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Accessible and Interesting Well explained, clearly thought out presentation that makes what might seem like a dry subject rather interesting. Very useful for any citizen, consumer, and anyone who deals with contracts for their work
Date published: 2009-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Starter for Contracts I refreshed my Business Law I and II by taking this course. This course is an excellent starter or refresher course for those who love contracts. I would certainly buy Contracts II or Advance Contract Law from The Teaching Compnay if the same professor taught it. Please consider much more Contract Law such as Statutes of Frauds, International Contract Law, UCC and State Contract Law, etc. I highly recommend the Professor continue to teach for The Teaching Company. This is a win-win for your customers.
Date published: 2009-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good intro course Good intro course, even though it's a litte old. Will there be an update?
Date published: 2009-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Humorous Prof. Cross is hilarious! I got a real kick out of listening to these lectures and it was very good exposure to the material covered. Short though.
Date published: 2009-02-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Professor Cross does a very good job of explaining the concepts in these courses, even to a novice such as myself. The case histories are very interesting. My only real complaint is that sometimes when Professor Cross discusses a particular case as an example, he admits he doesn't have all the relevant facts handy. I would have hoped that doing his homework would be necessary for teaching the course: although the points in question aren't necessarily important ones, they are interesting to the listener! Note that this is essentially the same review I gave to Cross's course on Negligence and Torts. The only real difference is that the average person would probably find the subject of contracts a little less exciting that that of torts. Nevertheless, the presentation is good, and the material is worth knowing.
Date published: 2009-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome I have never studied any type of law before and found this course to be 100% accessible, informative and entertaining. The lecturer has a great sense of humor as well as a very engaging speaking style. Loved the course
Date published: 2009-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Exciting Forray Into Contracts! Dr. Cross does an excellent job of introducing the listener to the world of contracts. Though focusing predominantly on contractual law in the United States, he also discusses international contract law towards the end of the course. This was my first TTC course -- I selected it due to a passing interest in the subject matter. In addition to being interesting, this series is also fairly practical. On a side note, Dr. Cross has a great sense of humor that is often integrated nicely into lectures amidst all of the learning, making the experience more memorable and enjoyable. I look forward to listening to other courses by Dr. Cross!
Date published: 2009-01-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Past its sell-by date This course covers the basics of contract law in a clear and engaging manner. I think it would a good introduction for a business student, and might even be a good review for a law student studying for a contracts exam. It is, however, a bit less successful than its sister course on torts. First, contracts are just inherently less interesting, to most people, than torts. Stories about merchants changing their minds about deals are less compelling than stories about explosions in train stations. While I'm not sure it make much sense to say that there's more tort law than there is contract law, the course feels like it delves much deeper into the picky details of a smaller body of knowledge. Unlike the torts course, the contracts course does not allow itself to stray very far into related areas of the law. This leaves it time to say more than most people really want to know about the core of contract law. Like the torts course, it is rather old--the copyright date on the course handbook is 1994. But it's aging a little less gracefully than the torts course. This is not because the law of contracts has changed very much since the 1990s--indeed, the changes in the law of torts have been more significant. But the jokes about Joey Buttefuco and Lorena Bobbitt, which I expect sounded a little sophomoric at the time, are now positively cringe-worthy.
Date published: 2008-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Recommended to anyone interested in understanding the fundamentals of contract negotiations. Pragmatic and useful content. A complex topic taught effectively in an easy to understand format.
Date published: 2008-12-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great company. Great idea. I wish I was the first me to think of kind of products. Thanks!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have been using The Teaching Company for many years. It has allowed me to take all the courses in college that I never had the time to take. It expands my world and enlightens my life.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Those long commutes.... aren't so long anymore!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging and entertaining
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course was so much better than I expected, that I, promptly ordered the negligenc, torts class.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An uncompromising and elegant introduction into the study of contract theory and business negligence with many excellent applications, a very practical and useful course.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor cross put business law contracts in layman's terms. its incredible how much I've learned.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from course was well prepared and presented.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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