Texas A&M Law Review

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Modern contract law scholarship embraces a particularly strange contradiction. On one hand, most legal scholars accept the core insight of what is called relational contract theory: most commercial contracts involve repeat players who seek to maximize wealth while still maintaining cooperative relationships. On the other hand, many of these same contract scholars believe that there is nothing contract law could or should do about it. They contend that contract law and legal theory are better off ignoring this insight, rather than trying to respond to it.

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This Article brings these disparate lines of contract scholarship together by introducing new information that could dramatically change how legal scholars make sense of relational contract theory. It turns out that while legal scholars have largely discounted the importance of relational contract theory, another community of scholars—working in organizational theory, marketing, and strategic management—have studied, tested, and developed its insights. As a result, they have not only empirically confirmed the presence of relational behaviors in modern contracting, but they have begun to discover the sort of data that might make it possible to better account for the economic effects of relational contracting behavior in both legal theory and contract law doctrine. This literature demonstrates that it is possible to operationalize the insights of relational contract theory in an interdisciplinary way that respects both the need for a methodologically rigorous framework and the complex nature of economic behavior. In this Article, I argue that contract law scholars should set out on that same course.

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