A troubling book came in the mail last week: Global Issues in Contract Law by a bevy of law professors and published by Thomson West. Hitherto in my own teaching of contracts, I had managed to justify my minimalist approach to international contracting complexities by the inconspicuousness of useful teaching materials that could be accommodated within a four unit basic course. I’m not so sure that justification can look itself in the mirror anymore. It is probably just as much a disservice to my students to focus on purely American law than it would be to focus purely on the law of my home state, Texas. And the new book provides no continued excuse to do so. It is a 180-page mix of traditional American cases, foreign cases, law review snippets and author commentary that appears no more likely to bore the pants off my generally pragmatic students than the material I already cover. We thus appear to have a significant change in the relative costs of including international contracting issues within the compulsory curriculum.
The issue I and other faculty thus face is: what’s going to give? I already take a fairly conceptual approach to contracts teaching, minimizing bar-beloved details on exceptions to the statute of frauds and attempting to inject a synthetic and active approach to contracts via the Scott Burnham's drafting book and heavy reliance on Doug Leslie's CaseFile Method rather than the typical parade of contractual pathologies marching through appellate courts. I can’t even avoid my dilemma by indulging the time tested methods of blame and despair, since I was one of the advocates for compressing contracts into four units in order to bring statutory and practical subjects such as Analytical Methods for Lawyers into our first year. And I know that, if I and others omit the international materials from the basic contracts course, only a small percentage of students will choose to encounter it later in the law school curriculum given the plethora of courses and activities competing for their attention.
I suspect I’m going to teach some of the materials emphasized in Global Issues such as remedies and formation through that book, reducing domestic coverage of those subject matters, and teach the rest in my inimitable and largely domestic fashion. Of course, this international diffusion of focus, coupled with the compression of our contracts course into four units, arguably trades our law students’ prospects of passing the bar examination for their receipt of a useful education. The former, to my knowledge, still ignores international contracts, just as it shamefully ignores virtually all federal statutory subjects of importance in the 21st Century. (Expect a future blog/rant on this subject later) I can comfort myself with the knowledge that most of my students would pass the Texas bar even if I spent class time indulging my personal interest in sabermetrics, the possible illusion that it is motivation and excitement rather than quickly forgotten doctrine that leads to bar passage, and that a gap industry has grown up to accommodate, among other things, what might scholastically be called the disjunction between faculty and bar examiner notions of pedagogic priorities. At the margins, however, there may be some students for whom my curricular choices are a but-for cause of their failure to make the cut score. I can only hope that the great majority who make it through the bar notwithstanding Global Issues' perturbation of the pedagogic equilibrium will better serve their clients in the years to come.
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