How To Answer Law Case Study Questions

John agrees to build an extension to Chen’s house. At the time they enter the agreement, the price of building materials is increasing week by week. John is reluctant to set a price for the work until he knows how much it is going to cost. Chen agrees in the contract that he will pay John “the purchase price of materials as at the date of completion plus $6000 for labour”. The parties also agree that the work must be completed by the end of June, as Chen’s family is coming to visit him at that time. Before the work begins, there is an unexpected increase in labour costs and an equally unexpected drop in the price of building materials. John tells Chen that he will need to increase the labour component to $10,000 or not do the job at all. Chen is anxious that the work be completed by the end of June so reluctantly agrees to the change. John builds the extension but does not finish it until the middle of July. Because of this, Chen had to pay for his family to stay in a hotel for three weeks at a total cost of $3000. Chen is now refusing to pay John more than the price of materials plus $6000 for labour. In addition, he wants John to compensate him for the money he had to pay for the hotel. Required: Answer the following questions. In each case, give reasons for your answers, and support your reasons with case law.

a. Is there a valid enforceable contract between Chen and John?

b. What arguments could Chen use to support his refusal to pay John more than the
original agreed price?

c. What arguments could Chen use to support his claim for compensation for the hotel?

d. What arguments could John use to support his claim to the $10,000 he wants Chen to

Issue: The question that has been given, itself is the issue, which is, if the contract between Chen and John is a valid one?

Rule:  “contract (or informally known as an agreement in some jurisdictions) is an agreement having a lawful object entered into voluntarily by two or more parties, each of whom intends to create one or more legal obligations between them. The elements of a contract are "offer" and "acceptance" by "competent persons" having legal capacity who exchanges "consideration" to create "mutuality of obligation."”- Common Law Legal System.


Analysis: the common law system and the contract law of Australia tell us that contract can be formed when certain conditions are fulfilled. When two or more parties (Chen and John), have a lawful object (building of the house extension), where john agrees to build the extension of Chen’s house (legal work) on a payment of certain sum (consideration) within the given period of time. When the definition of the contract is analyzed and the given situations is considered it can be seen that it lies parallel to one another. It also creates a mutual obligation between them which is that John would build the extension of the house within the given period of time and Chen in return will give him the payment they have agreed upon.

Conclusion: the contact law and the common law give a definition of how a valid enforceable contract can be formed. And the situation given fulfills all the given criteria; hence the contract between John and Chen is a valid enforceable contract.


Case law where the offer was a valid one: Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co [1893] 1 QB 256

2. Issue: What arguments could Chen use to support his refusal to pay John more than the

Original agreed price?

Rule: a contract is formed on agreed terms between the parties who are getting into the agreement. Here the terms and the considerations has already been decided and no clause has been put in, as to change in either because of unforeseen circumstances, and since when entering into a contract the parties are into a mutual obligation to complete the given work within the stipulated time, Chen can refuse to pay on the basis of breach of duty or the mutual obligation by the other part (John) - Contract Law

Analysis: when we refer to the issue we see that there was a particular compensation that Chen had agreed to pay to John for building up the extension of his house within the given period of time, because his family needed accommodation after that time. what is seen after that is that there is an increase in the labor costs while there is a decrease in the price of the materials required for the building up of the extension, and because of this john asks an increase in the labor price, or else he would not work for Chen, to which Chen ‘reluctantly’ agreed because he wanted the work to be complete within the given period of time. But the work though is completed has taken one and a half more months, and because of this Chen had to face difficulties and pay extra for his family’s accommodation. What we see is that Chen had agreed to pay the given price only on one condition that is the extension should have been completed by June, which certainly has not been done. When the only reason on which the extra payment was agreed upon is not kept in mind by John, Chen can hence deny the payment on ground of breach of duty of John, and can therefore refuse to pay the extra charges that John had asked for.

Conclusion: the Contract Law provides provisions for the plaintiff if there is a breach of duty by the defendant, and hence gives provisions for the plaintiff to act in a certain manner when the duty has not been fulfilled. Hence there are reasons which Chen can when he refuses to pay the extra amount of labor cost as his work was not done according to the terms of the contract.

Case law: for breach of duty when a contract have been formed-  Payless Travel v Baba Krupa Holidays [2004] All ER (D) 503

3. Issue: What arguments could Chen use to support his claim for compensation for the hotel?

Rule: “Damages for breach of contract are viewed as a 'substitute' for performance - consequently, they are designed to put the plaintiff in the position they would have been in had the contract been performed properly. Punitive damages are not available. The loss claimed must not be too remote from the breach and the non-breaching party must do what is reasonable to reduce (mitigate) the damage they suffer.”- Australian Contract Law.

analysis: what has been discussed earlier is the part where John has delayed the making of the extension of the house by one and a half months which in a way is breach of duty because the terms of the contract which John and Chen had got into clearly stated that the extension of the house was to be completed by June because Chen needed the accommodation for his family who would arrive by then. And this was the only reason why eventually and reluctantly Chen had agreed on paying more labor cost to John. But since this term was ignored and the work took longer, Chen had to find accommodation for his family in the hotel for which he had to incur a cost of $3000 which could have been uncalled for if the house would have built on time.

Conclusion: ‘award for damages are compensatory’ states the central principle which is governing this law, hence Chen can claim his incurred cost from John.

Case law regarding award for damage/loss: (HLA [110-11060] eg. Johnson v Perez (1988) 166 CLR 351 at 355).


4. Issue: What arguments could John use to support his claim to the $10,000 he wants Chen to pay?

Rule: “This is a rule of evidence that precludes a person from denying the truth of some promise made by him or her of the existence of facts whether existing or not which he or she has by words or conduct led another to believe in.”- promissory/equitable/estoppels under the Contract Law.

Analysis: when the given case is considered it is seen that though John took more than the required time, he actually built the house extension, putting in the labor which was required in spite of the increased labor price (after Chen had agreed), and also that the materials had been used, for which Chen should pay., moreover Chen had agreed on paying the extra cost that was required by John for the labor and material input. By brining in the estoppels method, John can claim that Chen had actually promised him to pay the increased amount of labor cost and the material cost which on completion of the house extension, he cannot refuse to pay. It was only after Chen had agreed to pay for the increased prices that John had started working. This case may also see the reference where the third party (labor force used by John to complete the completion of the house) is used, and thus their payment has to be made as well from the payment that comes from Chen. Though the time taken by John to complete the house extension was more than promised, but he can also claim that the house extension wasn’t left incomplete, but was completed over the period of time. moreover if Chen was to refuse the payment which included the extra labor cost and also the price of the materials which have been used by John for completing the extension of the house, he could have said that when John asked for the extra payment or maybe just as the due date for building the house extension was crossed, without waiting for the completion to take place on a full and final basis. No earlier notice had been given to John regarding the nonpayment of the labor costs or the material costs, which had already been spent from John’s side for completing the extension of Chen’s house.



what can be concluded after looking aspects of the contract law is that estoppels can be used as an argument by John in order to get the $10,000 from Chen which had been earlier promised by him, because of the increased labor cost and since, the house had been already completed, and that Chen had not given any notice regarding the nonpayment of labor costs earlier, John can actually go ahead and claim the money with the help of the given branch of contract law.

Case laws: where estoppels has been used as a defense or as an argument to get the other party to act in a certain way- Walton’s case, Walton’s Stores (Interstate) Ltd v Maher (1988) 164 CLR 387 and Central London Property Trust v High Trees House Ltd [1947] 1 KB 130.




  1. .. (2006). Contract law: Topic 2 Common law elements of contracts.Available: Last accessed 14th Jan 2015.
  2. John Arthur. (). Damages and Equitable Compensation in a Commercial Setting .Available: Last accessed 14th Jan 2015.
  3. .. (2009). Contract Text.Available: Last accessed 14th Jan 2015.
  4. Julia Clarke. (). Australian Contract and Consumer Law.Available: Last accessed 14th Jan 2015.
  5. .. (). Networked Knowledge - Law Lectures Consideration - in Acceptance of Contract.Available: Last accessed 14th Jan 2015.

Guidance on writing answers to problem questions in contract law

General organisation
Introduction and conclusion
Use of facts
Statements about the law
How to be successful

One important point at the start - do not treat a problem question as an invitation to write an abstract essay about the legal issues involved in the problem. The facts are all important and application to the facts is essential. Students will frequently write out all the law they consider to be raised by the facts and then, without separating the issues clearly, leave all their application to the end. The dangers of excessive repetition and irrelevant points of law are high and this is very poor legal style.

General organisation

1. Facts

(a) Start with the facts. Read the problem carefully several times. Don't skim read. You must have a precise understanding of the facts, since facts determine the relevance of any legal points you make later. Fact identification and organisation is an important legal skill. If it helps, draw a quick diagram to explain the facts and the parties.
(b) Accept as true those facts that are given. Do not worry about how unlikely they might be.
(c) Identify any important missing facts.
(d) Do not assume facts which are not given and do not ponder on what the position would have been if the facts had been different - unless specifically requested to do so by the question itself, e.g. "would your answer have been different if..?"

2. Let the facts guide you in identification of the relevant legal issues

I.e. what is it that the person(s) in question wishes to know? For example, they may wish to know whether there is a binding contract and the consequences of this.

Consider the order in which you wish to deal with the issues raised by the facts and bear in mind the need to present points in a coherent and logical way. For example, it is usual to find an offer first before seeking to identify whether a piece of correspondence constitutes an acceptance. Similarly, identify that the correspondence is in fact an acceptance before looking at whether it has been communicated.

The legal issue involved will determine the order in which you deal with principles and their application. The order and organisation of your lecture materials and course texts should guide you on this.

If there is more than one issue and/or if advising more than one party, you will need to deal with each separately.

3. Deal with one issue at a time

Avoid "jumping around" between issues and mixing discussion on different issues. Do not move on to a further issue until you have said all that is required to be said about the first identified issue.

4. Discuss the law relevant to the issue

State the law in the context of the issue raised by the facts. [This will ensure strict relevancy on the law and will make clear that you have identified the correct law applicable to the factual issue.]

Cite supporting authorities. Always give reasons for your views and authority for legal principles and rules.

If the legal position is unclear then explain the nature of the uncertainty and suggestions on how it might be resolved - including your own view of the most likely approach to be taken by a court. In such a case it is appropriate to argue by analogy and policy (a relevant example is the position on telephone answering machine messages). However, you must not produce an answer which is based purely on policy and which ignores the law (the sort of work you might produce if you had not studied a law course at all). This is known as "layman's law" and must be avoided at all costs since it is likely to lead to a fail answer.

5. Apply the law to the facts

Assess what the likely decision would be on this issue.

Note that there is often no right answer in legal problem questions because examiners often use issues where there are uncertainties in applying the law. In addition, insufficient factual information may have been given to make any firm conclusion.

Uncertainties in the law

It may be very difficult to apply the legal principle in question to the facts before you, e.g. offer or invitation to treat? Or the application of the reasonableness requirement in relation to exemption clauses under UCTA 1977.

However, you must identify

any detailed factors or formulae that a court may take into account,
        e.g. Schedule 2 guidelines and case law factors under s.11 of UCTA 1977.

any details of the facts that will assist,
       e.g. the wording of a piece of correspondence may be indicative that no definite promise to be bound- "may be prepared to sell to you".

Insufficient Facts

This is a feature in almost every problem question. If a client came to see you in person, you would ask a series of more detailed questions.

Remember that if there are major questions of fact omitted from the problem you should point these out and explain their relevance.

6. Avoid irrelevancy at all costs

Irrelevancy can lead to double jeopardy in that it detracts from what you have said and it leaves you less time to say something which is relevant, important and effective - leading to an unbalanced answer.

Remember that if something does not advance your answer to the factual scenario actually set, then do not say it.

TIP - if you are asked to advise a named person in a problem question then try to imagine that that person is sitting in front of you and is paying you for your time and advice. This should help you to focus on what it is that that person actually wants to know and then only explain, apply and assess the law which is relevant to answering this question.

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Introduction and conclusion

Avoid introductions that are so general that they could have been written in answer to ANY problem considering principles of Contract law. Such introductions do not answer the question set; they are unrelated to the specific issue raised. In particular, you should avoid beginning your answer with a general summary of the law of contract

For example: "In order to have a binding contract there must be an offer and an acceptance. To be enforceable the agreement must be supported by consideration and there must be an intention to create legal relations...".

Begin directly by considering the first issue raised and avoid general introductions of the type you may previously have employed in AS and A2 level essays in subjects such as English and History.

Avoid simple and obvious statements that add nothing "This problem involves difficult issues of fact and law" OR, the introduction frequently encountered in the Contract law examination paper "This is a problem concerning Contract law"; of course it is!

You can conclude simply by summarising the outcomes for the parties you were asked to advise - but only do this where you have not already given this type of conclusion at the end of the application for each issue - or where you want to conclude with a statement of the wider picture (i.e. all the issues taken together).

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Use of facts

There is no need to repeat the facts of the problem in the answer unless you are making use of them to expressly identify the basis for your identification of the legal issue. In other words, they can be usefully incorporated as part of your discussion of the legal issue and application. What you need to avoid is an answer that stops and starts by returning to the facts in a manner that affects the flow of your answer.

• Case Facts

There is often no need to go into the detailed facts of the cases you cite. In particular, give only the name if the case is being cited as authority for a broad general proposition of law and the facts are not particularly significant or helpful as an illustration.

You will, however, need to go into detailed facts where you are seeking to distinguish the facts of the case in question from the facts of the problem or where there are significant similarities of wording in the documents used in your problem to the words used in a specific case, e.g. Holwell Securities v Hughes - "notice in writing to Dr Hughes" was sufficient to require actual communication of an acceptance and thereby oust the operation of the postal rule.

[Of course, your knowledge of case law is used when you identify the legal issues raised by the facts so do not fall into the trap of thinking that case facts are not important.]

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Statements about the law

Avoid discussing at any length matters about which there can be no dispute, i.e. established (and unquestioned) principles of law.

However, you must fully explain the law. What you say must be complete and make sense on its own; you should not rely on the reader's own legal knowledge to complete the meaning. You should write as if the work were intended for a lawyer who knows only a little about the area of law in question.

For example - it is unnecessary to state: "A House of Lords decision is of greater value as a precedent than a Court of Appeal decision" .

Lengthy criticisms of the law are inappropriate in problem questions unless the analysis of policy helps to determine the limits of the current rules. However, they are often specifically called for in essay style questions and you should never ignore reform proposals.

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How to be successful

The formula:


• Appreciate the legal issues raised.

Understand the legal principles so that you can explain them convincingly.

• Balance

- In terms of your application and treatment of different issues, e.g. avoid spending too much time discussing one issue which is fairly non-contentious, especially where this is done to the exclusion of other more significant issues.

• Avoid vague statements and unsupported generalisations since law is a precise and detailed subject.

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