Thousands enroll in Charles Fried’s online contracts class

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For nearly 50 years, Professor Charles Fried has been teaching the intricacies of the law to HLS students.

Starting this month, the masterful teacher and renowned scholar is expanding his student body dramatically with the start of his online ContractsX course – a seven-week study of contracts for nonlawyers. The class is part of the HarvardX online learning platform, which offers free classes – known as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – to students across the world. As of the first week of January, more than 13,200 students had enrolled in the course, which begins January 8.

“It seemed to me a really good candidate for a MOOC, because it’s a subject that is very pervasive in people’s lives,” said Fried, the Beneficial Professor of Law at HLS. “It’s not like criminal law, because most people don’t encounter criminal law. But contracts are all around you. You’re always engaging in them.”

In addition, Fried said contracts have the virtue of having a structure, not just a miscellaneous set of rules. “It’s possible to make people see the way in which it hangs together,” he said. “And the points I want to make can so often be illustrated by wonderfully interesting stories.”

Each lesson is presented as a video of Fried speaking in his accessible style, combined with animations of hypothetical and historical stories about contracts. In addition, four HLS students will lead regular online discussion groups.

Fried began teaching at Harvard Law School in 1961. He served as Solicitor General of the United States from 1985-89. And he was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1995-99.

Fried’s ContractsX class is the second HarvardX taught by an HLS professor. It follows on the heels of the highly successful CopyrightX class, first taught by Professor William Fisher in the Spring of 2013.