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Contract Law

From Trust to Promise to Contract

Start Date: Sep 12, 2016
Duration: 8 weeks
Price: $495

Course Description

All HarvardXPLUS courses are taught by Harvard faculty members. Small cohorts enable a high level of peer-to-peer learning and engagement. Learners who successfully complete the course will earn a HarvardXPLUS branded credential.

Contracts are a part of our everyday life, arising from collaboration, trust, promise and credit. How are contracts formed? What makes a contract enforceable? What happens when one party breaks a promise?

What You'll Learn

  • A theoretical background of contracts, trust, and promise
  • How to form contracts through valid offer and acceptance
  • Limits to enforcing contracts
  • Issues excusing contractual performance
  • Available remedies for contractual breaches
  • Third parties’ ability to enforce contracts
  • The limitations of contract law
  • How courts interpret contracts
  • Relationship of Contracts to Agency, Partnership, Corporations and Regulation
  • How to read through contracts to apply these key concepts and understand potential issues and outcomes


Charles Fried

Charles Fried Beneficial Professor of Law


Learn about contracts from Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried, one of the world’s leading authorities on contract law. For the first time, this course will incorporate excerpts of contracts and challenge students to analyze the provisions by applying the principles covered by Professor Fried. This edition will also feature added levels of interaction with the teaching staff to offer a truly immersive experience. Finally, this module adds a brand new unit on Agency, Partnerships, Corporations, and Governmental Regulation.

Contracts are promises that the law will enforce. But when will the law refuse to honor a promise? What happens when one party does not hold to their part of the deal?

We are exposed to contracts in all areas of our life — agreeing to terms when downloading a new computer program, hiring a contractor to repair a leaking roof, and even ordering a meal at a restaurant. Knowing the principles of contracts is not just a skill needed by lawyers, it illuminates for everyone a crucial institution that we use all the time and generally take for granted.

This contract law course, which features updated case studies and pieces of contracts, is designed to introduce the range of issues that arise when entering and enforcing contracts. Students will be challenged to apply each of the following key concepts to hypothetical situations featuring simulated contracts. The course will first provide an introduction to what a contract is and also analyze the purpose and significance of contracts. Then, it will discuss the intent to create legal relations, legality and morality, and the distinction between gifts and bargains. The course also investigates common pitfalls: one-sided promises, mistakes, fraud, and frustration. With the knowledge of what makes contracts and how they can go wrong, Professor Fried will discuss remedies and specific performance. Finally, Professor Fried will introduce how contracts can create rights for third parties.

The course’s instructor, Charles Fried, has been teaching at Harvard Law School for more than 50 years and has written extensively on contracts. Not only is Professor Fried a leading authority on contract law, but he also utilizes a storytelling approach to explaining the topic, which creates a unique and interesting class experience.


Below is a suggested schedule for getting through the material. Most lecture segments are followed by short assessments and all units have larger, end-of-unit tests.

  • Week 1-2 | Introduction
  • Week 1-2 | Unit 1 (4 Principles), and Complications
  • Week 3 | Unit 2 : Empty Bag - One-Sided Promises
  • Week 3 | Unit 3: Offer/Acceptance
  • Week 4 | Unit 4: Law at the Margins of Contracts
  • Week 5 | Unit 5: Mistakes, Fraud, and Frustration
  • Week 6 | Unit 6: Interpretation of Contracts
  • Week 7 | Unit 7: Remedies and Specific Performance, Third Parties
  • Week 8 | Unit 8: Agency, Partnerships, Corporations, and Regulation


HarvardXPLUS is online learning reimagined, with you in mind. All HarvardXPLUS courses are taught by Harvard faculty members. Smaller cohorts enable a higher level of peer-to-peer learning and increased engagement with faculty and teaching assistants. Learners who successfully complete the course will earn a unique and valuable HarvardXPLUS branded credential highlighting the skills and knowledge mastered in the course.


This contract law course, which features updated case studies and excerpts of actual contracts, is designed to introduce the range of issues that arise when entering and enforcing contracts. Students will be challenged to apply each of the following key concepts to hypothetical situations featuring simulated contracts.

  • Whether you deal with contracts as part of your job now
  • ...or plan to in the future
  • Whether you are considering law school in the future
  • ...or if you are already there!
  • Maybe you are just looking for stimulating professional development

This course is open to anyone who is interested in understanding contracts.

Whatever your motivation, we hope you join us in September!


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Fall 2016

HarvardXPLUS Credential, Contract Law: From Trust to Promise to Contract

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