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Contract Law: A Beginner’s Guide

This post was coauthored by Robert Brammer and Barbara Bavis, Legal Reference Librarians.

For the next installment of our Beginner’s Guide series, we will examine an area of law that never appears to go out of style—contract law.  Contract law is a constant part of our lives, whether it is signing a lease for a new apartment, obtaining car insurance, taking out a loan, or even something as simple as buying a warranty for a computer.  Despite the overwhelming role it plays in our lives, contract law can be incredibly difficult to understand, leading to questions like these:

  • When is a contract formed?
  • How do I know what the terms of a contract are, and when can I change them?
  • What can I do if I think the other party is not living up to his/her side of the deal?

To start answering these questions, we suggest studying some of the resources listed below.

[D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin (seated) and Douglas Fairbanks at the signing of the contract establishing United Artists motion picture studio] from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

[D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin (seated) and Douglas Fairbanks at the signing of the contract establishing United Artists motion picture studio] from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Treatises/Uniform Laws

As is the case for most legal research topics, the best place to begin when facing a contract law issue will likely be a secondary source like a treatise or a model law.  However, as the knowledge of a researcher—much like the level of specificity in a contract—can vary greatly, we have collected a range of resources for you to review.

For the True Beginner

For More Specific Subjects

For Even More Specific Subjects: The Uniform Commercial Code

When a contract deals with a commercial transaction, researchers may be required to perform research regarding the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).  The UCC is a collection of proposed model laws, drafted by the American Law Institute and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, that are meant to serve as a guide for state legislatures when they draft statutes regarding commercial contracts and other dealings.  Some helpful resources regarding the UCC in the Library of Congress catalog are the following:

Although many states have codified the bulk of the sections proposed in the UCC, it is important for researchers to make sure that the sections of the UCC in which they are most interested are a part of their respective state’s statutes.  To do so, we suggest using the table in the Uniform Laws Annotated to see which UCC sections have been adopted by your state, and if so, where they can be found in your state’s statutes.  Once you have a state statute citation from the Uniform Laws Annotated, be sure to use the Law Library of Congress’s Guide to Law Online to double check it. To find your state’s statutes, select your state from the Guide to Law Online page, and scroll down to the “Legislative” heading.

Drafting Guides

For many researchers, it is not the theory behind contract law that is the most important; rather, it is how to draft a contract that will address their needs and yet still be upheld in court.

Keep in mind that most of the drafting guides listed above will focus on federal rather than state law.  To find a state-specific drafting guide, we suggest doing a subject search in the library catalog for the subject “Forms (Law)” and the state in which you are interested.  For example, the subject “Forms (Law)–Ohio” has over 100 entries in the Library of Congress catalog alone.

Websites

Finally, for additional information about contract law, including up-to-the-minute updates, researchers may want to review online resources, such as:

We hope that this Beginner’s Guide helps you to feel more grounded and confident in the area of contract law.  As always, feel free to contact the Law Library of Congress if you have any questions.

Update on July 17, 2013: This post was updated to include a new drafting guide.

Update on August 28, 2013:  The post was updated to include an additional resource.

2 Comments

  1. Rufus T. Beddingfield
    May 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    I have a contract agreement and the young man will not reconize our agreement. Now, I did file it with commission of the state , he has a license. I was told no, filing fee and they accept the contract between and young man. Now, I’m entitle to 30 % of his earning and the state will now send over the e-mail to Russia. I would like some law to support my case.

  2. Barbara Bavis
    May 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    There are many resources in the above post that may be beneficial to you. If, after utilizing them, you still have questions, do not hesitate to submit your question to our Ask a Librarian service at http://www.loc.gov/rr/askalib/ask-law.html.

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