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By Dave Hoffman

Intuitions About Contract Formation

Tess Wilkinson-Ryan and I have a new paper up on SSRN, titled Intuitions About Contract Formation.  In the great Redyip tradition, I thought I’d blog about it. From the abstract:

Legally, much depends on the moment that a negotiation becomes a deal.  Unlike torts or civil procedure or any area of public law, the laws of  promissory exchange only apply to parties who have manifested their assent to be bound. Even so, the moral norms of exchange and promise are quite firmly  entrenched and more broadly applicable than just legal contracts. Norms of promise-keeping and reciprocity, interpersonal courtesy, community reputation—these kinds of intangible goods have real effects on contract behavior. For this reason it is especially surprising that intuitions about formation have gotten so little attention from legal and behavioral scholars. This paper offers five new empirical studies of commonsense approaches to contract formation. The first section of this Article surveys intuitions about what the law of formation is. In a world in which the vast majority of contracts are signed without the advice of counsel, most people have to draw inferences based on their background knowledge and beliefs. It turns out that the colloquial understanding of contract formation is about the formalization of an agreement rather than actual assent.

In the second part of the Article, we tease out the intuitive relationship between formation and obligation. The law of contracts is very clear that  parties’ obligations to one another turn entirely on whether or not they have mutually manifested assent to be bound. And, in fact, we find that behavioral results suggest that legal (or legalistic) formation does enhance commitment to a deal irrespective of its power to impose sanctions; it seems that the law has freestanding normative force. However, we also find that the subjective sense of obligation is not as black or white as the law would predict. Parties are influenced by the natural, informal obligations to one another that build over the course of a transaction, increasing their commitment to the partnership in stages rather than all at once at the moment of formation.

To set the paper up a bit, Tess and I had previously found that when subjects are told they are in legally binding contracts, they lower their guard against exploitation & treat contracting parties like partners.  This raised a question that Intuitions tries to answer:  what are subjects’ naive views about formation?  We show that they differ systematically from the operative doctrinal rules, which creates a window for exploitation — when consumers believe themselves to be in contracts but aren’t. For example, individuals think that payment is contract, not agreement.  In one experiment, for example, we asked:

“Peter is ordering new custom speakers from Audionuts, a mail-order sound system retailer. Peter calls the company and speaks at length to a customer service representative, hashing out the details of his order, which include speakers for his main media unit (TV and stereo system) as well as his portable devices (phone and iPad). Peter and the customer service representative...

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Law and Hard Fantasy Interview Series: Joe Abercrombie

This post is a part of our ongoing interview series with fantasy authors who generally write in the burgeoning genre of gritty / hard / dark epic fantasy.   The series began with this book review post, and continued with interviews of George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss, and Mark Lawrence.

Today, I’m interviewing Joe Abercrombie.  Joe is the author, most famously, of the “First Law” trilogy, and some more recent spin-offs set in that world.  Joe’s writing is characterized by dark (very, very dark) humor, grit (as in dirt), and an unhealthy amount of revenge.  He’s on twitter, he has a blog, and he was nice enough to agree to answer some questions from me about his writing and its relationship to law.

DH: There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the collapse of the “fantasy” and “fiction” categories. Is there anything useful about the distinction? If so, what are the minimal characteristics of books that would stay on your fantasy shelf?

JA: Any question about definitions and categorisations is always a complicated one, with lots of confusions and blurry areas. All fiction to some degree takes place in an invented world, with invented people doing unreal things. In a way the upside down definition may be the most useful – fantasy is books published by fantasy imprints and shelved in the fantasy sections. As far as what content makes a book a fantasy book rather than general fiction, it varies with the reader. I guess you know it when you see it. Although magic swords are often a giveaway.

DH: One marker of the trend toward harder / darker fantasy is more fulsome world-building and world-planning. But you are well-known as a guy who hates maps (recent books excepted!) Here’s a practical question: do you sit down and think about the rules of the world before you start to write, or do you start writing and work them out as you go along?

JA: I don’t know that I’d necessarily agree with your first assertion, there. I think a marker of the trend towards harder/darker fantasy is a greater focus on character and internal life over setting and world building, certainly I see that as key in what I’m doing. But you want the backdrop to be consistent and coherent. So you have some ideas about the rules of the world. Certainly you have some strong ideas about the effect certain cultures will have on the way the characters think. That’s the kind of world building I’m most interested in, I suppose you could say, the kind that has a direct effect on the behaviour of the characters, rather than the kind that specifies exactly how many thousand years the tower of Zarb had guarded Dragonfire Pass.

DH: What do you have against maps anyway?

JA: I love maps. I have loads of them. But I don’t necessarily want to share them with the reader. I want the reader to see the action in close up, not wide shot....

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Some Rather Good Advice

From the 6th edition of the Summers/White/Hillman Treatise on the UCC, section 2:20.

“Under the present state of the law we believe that there is no language that a lawyer can put on a form that will always assure the client of forming a contract on the client’s own terms . . . If a seller must have a term to reduce its liability but cannot strike a bargain for it, the only answer may be to raise the price, buy insurance, or, as a last resort, have an extra martini every evening and not capitalize the corporation too heavily.”

This is exactly correct, though I can’t recommend martinis.

 

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Welcome Corey Yung

Please welcome back Corey Yung (of Kansas).  Corey has blogged for us previously, and we’re so pleased to have him back.

Corey is an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas School of Law. His scholarship primarily focuses on sexual violence, substantive criminal law, and judicial decision-making. Yung’s academic writings have been cited by state and federal courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States. Before Yung began his professorial career, he served as an associate for Shearman & Sterling in New York and clerked for the Honorable Michael J. Melloy of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Recent Articles:

How to Lie with Rape Statistics: America’s Hidden Rape Crisis, 99 Iowa Law Review (Forthcoming, 2014)

A Typology of Judging Styles, 107 Northwestern University Law Review 1757 (2013)

The Incredible Ordinariness of Federal Penalties for Inactivity, 2012 Wisconsin Law Review 841 (2012)

Beyond Ideology: An Empirical Study of Partisanship and Independence in the Federal Courts, 80 George Washington Law Review 2 (2012)

Flexing Judicial Muscle: An Empirical Study of Judicial Activism in the Federal Courts, 105 Northwestern University Law Review 1 (2011)

 

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Law and Hard Fantasy Interview Series: Mark Lawrence

I’ve sporadically run an interview series with fantasy authors who generally write in the burgeoning genre of gritty / hard / dark epic fantasy.  (I’m, obviously, a fan.)  The series began with this book review post, continued with interviews of George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss.  The series continues today as I interview Mark Lawrence.  Mark is the author of the Broken Empire trilogy, and the forthcoming Red Queen’s War.  His work has been lauded on both sides of the Atlantic (Mark was raised in the U.K., where he works as a research scientist).  He was gracious enough to respond to my email queries, which follow:

DH: Briefly for non-readers, can you introduce us to Jorg & the Broken Empire Series? What makes it different from other series on the shelves? ML:  The Broken Empire trilogy is related by Jorg Ancrath, seen through his eyes. Over the course of the books we see him at various points between age six and twenty watching him grow from a violent, charming and amoral child into a violent, charming and amoral young man. The primary element that makes the books unusual is that Jorg isn’t any kind of hero and in most fiction he would be the villain. DH:   You’ve said in another interview that you ”didn’t outline anything. I don’t plan. I just let the story flow as I write and generally have no idea where we’ll be at the bottom of the page.” Did that extend to the rules that governed the world (magic / commerce / time period)? ML: Yes, everything was a revelation. It’s fun to write that way – I lack motivation when I know what’s coming. DH: What do you think the movement toward gritty & researched realism in fantasy world building?  To rephrase: does it add to the value of a book that the author has worked out the distribution network for grain in each major city?  ML: I didn’t know people put those things together. I’ve heard people say books are getting more ‘gritty’, meaning more violent and less stylised in general. The realism there might be in terms of warrior not shrugging off their wounds and being fine the next day etc.  Researched realism and detailed city/country mechanics are not something I was aware of a movement toward. To me nothing is added by, for example, the author working out a grain distribution network. I’m interested in story and character, not mechanics. DH:  Many recent fantasy series, including yours, contrast a current age of violence with a ancient era of peace and civilizing empire. But some parts of civilization appear to survive in your books, particularly the method of selecting the emperor.  What kind of laws and traditions do you think survive the collapse of empire? Which would survive the collapse of ours? ML: I’m not sure I make that contrast. Nobody accuses the Builders (the ancient civilisation in my work) of being peaceful – simply more advanced… until they wrought their own ruin with weapons of...

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