Contracts Casebook Now in its 3rd Edition Brings Law in Action to the Classroom

Contracts: Law in Action is a contracts casebook that originated at Wisconsin Law School. The third edition was just published. The casebook is used in over 10 law schools, and is used by all Wisconsin law students in their introductory Contracts course.

The book's very title suggests its goal. "We do things a little differently, bringing the idea of law in action to the study of contracts," says Stewart Macaulay, the lead editor of the casebook.

Macaulay is referring to the law in action philosophy, often associated with UW Law School, in which students learn not only legal rules, but also why those rules evolved to address social concerns, and how those rules operate in the real world.

For some, such an approach could make the book a challenge to adopt. But for those like Ethan Leib--currently a law professor at UC Hastings and soon to become a law professor at Fordham Law School--the approach offers an advantage:

"I use Contracts: Law in Action because it teaches students the edifices of contract doctrine with deep insight into the ways business actually functions," Leib says. "Ultimately, most of our students will be advising real clients--and they will be participating in an ideological practice they need to understand as part of their true professional responsibility. There is no better book to offer this practical orientation to contract law and theory."

The newly released third edition features some expansions: updates on unconscionability and the growing uses of arbitration to repeal the reform statutes of earlier decades are included, for example. From a production standpoint, a 3L named Ellen Vinz copyedited the two volumes to greatly improve the style and eliminate mistakes. And for the first time, Professor Jean Braucher of the Arizona College of Law joins the team of co-editors. The other co-editors are Professors Bill Whitford and John Kidwell.

The editors have always donated all royalties for the casebook to the Contracts Enrichment Fund, administered by the Wisconsin Law Alumni Association. This fund finances various events, such as the one that brought Joe Hoffmann, the plaintiff in the best-known contracts case ever decided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, to the law school to speak.

The fund has also financed conferences about contract law, including one in spring of 2008, which brought users of the casebook together to discuss suggestions and ideas for improvement in the 3rd edition. Another such opportunity will be an October conference on Stewart Macaulay's scholarship. Find more information about the conference here.

For all the celebration surrounding a new edition, one event in particular keeps the authors grounded in why they continue to do what they do. For decades, the contracts group has met weekly for an informal lunch to discuss the latest in contracts law, including what's working and not working in the classroom. "It's our way to continue to improve the way we teach contracts," says Whitford. "After all these years, there is always room to improve."

Submitted by UW Law News on April 14, 2011

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