Normally, when people think of the word “contract,” they sit up a little straighter in their chair, pull out their reading glasses, and get their favorite pen ready to sign on a dotted line. However, there is much more to the world of contract law than the stereotypical document “signed by the parties thereto.”
Every day across the globe people are constantly entering into contracts of various forms. People can enter into contracts without any thought, just as they do in brushing their teeth, bathing, or eating. Contracts can be formed through a simple telephone call, an exchange of letters or e-mails, filling a shipping order, or simply agreeing with someone that “if you do this, I’ll do that.”
The law of contracts historically was controlled by common law, or “judge-made” law. However, over time, many common law principles, along with other concepts and controls, have been codified in statutes to provide consistency. The most shining example of this is the Uniform Commercial Code. Today, contract law is a hybrid of common and statutory law.
In the simplest sense, a contract is a legally enforceable promise to do something in exchange for something – I promise to pay you $25 to mow my lawn and you agree to mow my lawn for $25. In the legal world, there are three basic elements at play in a contract: offer, acceptance, and consideration. In the example above, the offer is my promise to pay you $25 to mow my lawn; the acceptance would be your agreeing to mow my lawn for $25; and the consideration is in the form of my $25 and your providing the benefit of your mowing prowess.
Many contracts are not required to be in writing, but to do so is taking on a huge risk. Oral contracts are a Petri dish for confusion and mischief. If something goes wrong, the situation often becomes a game of “he said, she said,” requiring the court to consider all parties’ testimony and their actual performance to determine the bounds and duties of the contractual relationship. Thus, while not all contracts are required to be in writing, it is advisable to do so in order to avoid any disputes down the road. Also, there are some particular kinds of contracts that are required to be in writing to satisfy the “statute of frauds” (sale of land, guaranty contracts, contracts which cannot be completed within one year’s time, sale of goods over $500, etc.).
Our attorneys have years of experience in the drafting, negotiation, and interpretation of contracts. We can help you put your agreement in writing so that your intent is clear and easy to understand by both laypersons and lawyers. Or, if you’re having trouble enforcing or deciphering an agreement, we can put our skills and knowledge to work for you in making sure your rights are protected.