Some contracts courses may begin with material that provides students with background information on the law of contracts. Others may launch immediately into the study of substantive principles of contract law. Whatever form your contracts course takes, you may find it helpful to read the first three chapters of this book right at the beginning of your course. They introduce and articulate basic concepts about contract law and our legal system that you will find very helpful as you begin your studies. Many of the principles and concepts introduced in these three initial chapters will appear frequently throughout the book, so this will not be the only time that you read about them. However, this first encounter will set the stage for your studies and will enable you to begin to understand legal analysis and identify themes that run through contract law. You will find immediately that the discussion goes well beyond the exposition of rules of law. Even if one assumes that it is possible to articulate a clear and settled body of rules (an assumption that you will quickly find to be false), the rules are just one component of what needs to be studied in learning the law. Rules do not exist in a vacuum, but must be understood in light of historical perspective, public policy, legal theory, and the legal process.
We begin our introductory survey in this chapter by defining what is meant by a contract. This discussion gives you a brief overview of a number of the central themes of contract law and it broadly sketches the contractual relationship. Chapter 2 describes some of the fundamental concepts and distinctions that are essential to a comprehension of contract law in the context of our legal system as a whole. It explains the importance of historical perspective and legal theory, describes the nature of our common law system, and introduces the crucial distinction between judge-made law and statutory law,