Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Observations from Writing a Book that May Help You Finish Your Next Article

Last week on the blog I featured the smart book Empire of the Fund by sharing excerpts from a conversation with author, Professor William Birdthistle.  In discussing the book, he shared with me some insights on writing a book:  its process, genesis and use in the classroom.  I am fascinated by other's people writing process in the continual effort to improve my own.

writing a book...

[W]riting a book was more of a challenge than I expected, even though I told myself it was simply a collection of law review articles.  It turns out that the blinking cursor on an empty screen is more taunting when you're obliged to fill hundreds of pages.  Brief stints of productivity need to be repeated again and again and, until it all exists, nothing really exists.  I developed a convoluted system of drafting notes, then sitting down with a research assistant to record a chat about those notes, then working that recording into an outline.  That process still left me with plenty of writing to do, but I found it much easier to expand, polish, and revise those outlines than to fight the demon blank page.

Talking through your ideas forces you to synthesize the materials. It also retains the humanity behind the arguments.  This method makes a lot of sense when you read Professor Birdthistle's book because it feels like he is talking to you— just in a way that is smarter, better organized and more pithy than most of us can muster in the average conversation.  His book doesn't read like the belabored, bloated, and laborious sections that all too often find their way in law review articles (my own included).

genesis for the book...

The contents, to a large extent, have actually come from the classroom -- as these materials serve as the syllabus for a seminar I've taught for a few years.  The seminar, called Investment Funds, is almost always popular: in a go-go market, all the students want to hear about private equity and hedge funds; then in downturns, I get a sober audience of students who want to know more about their 401(k)s. 

application to broader classes...

I often work this material in to my BusOrg and SecReg classes too: so, I emphasize the role of funds on topics like corporate purpose (does charitable giving look different if the corporate funds might otherwise go to 401(k) holders), proxy contests (in which mutual funds are major institutional investors but often conspicuously absent from these fights), shorting (where the securities are often borrowed from mutual funds and ETFs), and behavioral versus neoclassical theory (quoting heavily from a wonderful disagreement between Judges Easterbrook and Posner in Jones v. Harris before it went to the Supreme Court).  

Since almost all students will soon be figuring out their own 401(k) and mutual fund investments, I've found that it's easy to make business issues far more salient to their lives.  Even to the saints who'll soon have a 403(b).

the role of behavioral work...

Finally, I highlight Professor Birdthistle's observations about changes to the corporate law landscape made space for a book like his to contribute, in a serious way, to the academic and popular debate about the efficacy of the mutual fund market.

I've been struck by the change in our intellectual and academic disposition towards investing problems.  I've been in the academy for a decade now and, when I began, the rational investor model was so thoroughgoing that it was difficult to discuss problems of individual investing.  Many conversations -- and job talks -- required a first-principles exegesis about how this market might possibly be anything other than highly efficient.  But a tide of behavioral work in recent years has helped explain why investors might struggle, and a good deal of empirical work has concretely shown how they struggle.  So conversations today focus more upon solutions rather than on whether there is even a problem.

To this last point, I wonder what ideas and principles, which seem untouchable today, will give way to the next generation's breakthrough.  I think is a particularly heartening message for young scholars--not all of the work has been done! Keep at it!  And it is an important message for folks who aren't writing in the mainstream. For folks who are passionate about their work, but feeling like their ideas aren't garnering the right cache with the right audiences. This is where you persevere so long as the work is thorough and well researched.  Maybe you and your work are contributing to an important intellectual advancement.  You could be changing the tides in ways that in presently imperceptible, but significant nonetheless.  So as the August submission deadline looms and the summer hours threaten to languish, press on!

Because this post is a compilation of quotes, I now turn to Garrison Keeler to close:

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Anne Tucker*

*Query:  Are the best motivational speeches are the ones you write for yourself?

July 20, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Behavioral Economics, Business Associations, Corporations, Financial Markets, Law School, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Innovative Teaching in Bankruptcy and Reorganizations

OK.  I know it's not yet quite time to panic about syllabi and such for the fall semester.  But that first day of class does approach, and I know some of you out there have already given some thought to innovating your teaching for the fall.  Maybe you're new to teaching or teaching a new (or new-to-you) course.  Maybe you're trying to spice up or change the direction of a course you've taught for a while.  Maybe this post will give you some new food for thought . . . .

For a number of years, my colleague George Kuney, the Director of the business law center at UT Law, has asked students to invest in a particular Chapter 11 bankruptcy case as a capstone experience in his Bankruptcy and Reorganizations course.  The students, working in pairs or small groups,  are required to review all of the documents in the case docket and provide summaries that integrate those filings with learning from the course and supplemental research.  George makes the resulting case studies available to the public.  The cumulation of case studies created by students in this course has gotten quite impressive over the years.  And the case studies get significant readership.

I often have said that it's hard for a law student to identify gaps in knowledge unless the student undertakes to write or speak about the law.  George's exercise offers students the opportunity to both write and speak about the law in a practical setting.  The final work product is a joint writing, but along the way, the students engage verbally to discuss between or among themselves what to present and how to present it in the final case study.

The project also helps students to see the immediate relevance of the law they are learning to find and apply in the course.  Someone out there is using that law right now in a context that requires issue and rule identification and legal analysis and judgment.  The students review and assess the decisions and actions of legal counsel and their clients real-time--just as the news media is reporting on those decisions and actions, in some cases.  Wow.

I see a lot of value in this method of teaching.  I am playing around with changing my Securities Regulation course (which next will be offered in the spring) to incorporate a smaller-scale version of an exercise like this.  It may take me a while to come up with something that works, but I am going to give it a go.  Let me know if you've used a project like this in any of your classes.  I would be curious to know what folks are doing in this regard.

July 11, 2016 in Bankruptcy/Reorganizations, Joan Heminway, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Save the Dates - 2017 National Business Law Scholars Conference

I am still at Berle VIII with Haskell Murray and Anne Tucker.  One more day of my June Scholarship and Teaching Tour to go--and I have a final presentation to do.  Then, back to Knoxville to stay until late in July.  Whew!

As you may recall or know, my Berle appearance this week follows closely on the heels of a talk on the same work (on corporate purpose and litigation risk in publicly held U.S. benefit corporations) that I made at last week's 2016 National Business Law Scholars conference.  While I am thinking about this conference, please join me in saving the date for the next one:  the 2017 National Business Law Scholars conference.  Next year's conference will be held June 8-9 at The University of Utah S. J. Quinney College of Law, with Jeff Schwartz hosting.  I will post more information and the call for papers, etc. once I have it.

June 27, 2016 in Anne Tucker, Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Haskell Murray, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 13, 2016

From The Big Peach to Music City

This past week, I completed the second leg of my June Scholarship and Teaching Tour.  My time at "Method in the Madness: The Art and Science of Teaching Transactional Law and Skills" at Emory University School of Law last week was two days well spent.  I had a great time talking to attendees about my bylaw drafting module for our transaction simulation course, Representing Enterprises, and listening to others talk about their transactional law and skills teaching.  Great stuff.

This week's portion of my academic tour begins with a teaching whistle-stop at the Nashville School of Law on Friday, continues with attendance (with my husband) at a former student's wedding in Nashville on Saturday evening, and ends (my husband and I hope) with Sunday brunch out with our son (and his girlfriend if she is available).  Specifically, on Friday, I teach BARBRI for four hours in a live lecture.  The topics?  Well, I drew a short straw on that.  I teach agency, unincorporated business associations (including a bit about both extant limited liability statutes in Tennessee), and personal property--all in four hours.  Ugh.  Although I am paid for the lecture and my expenses are covered, I would not have taken (and would not continue to take) this gig if I didn't believe that I could be of some help to students.  These topics--especially agency and partnership law, but also personal property--often are tested on the bar exam.  So, on I press.

I also am completing work this week on the draft article that I will present in Chicago and Seattle on the last two stops of my tour.  I will say more about that article in next week's post.  In the mean time, let me know if you have any suggestions (or good jokes) on the law of agency, partnerships, LLCs, or personal property (e.g., tenancies, gifts, bailments, adverse possession, replevin) for my lecture on Friday . . . .  It's so hard to make these speed-lectures somewhat engaging for the students.  [sigh]

June 13, 2016 in Agency, Conferences, Corporations, Joan Heminway, LLCs, Partnership, Personal Property, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Reflection on Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

I have been following Professor Angela Duckworth's work on grit for well over a year, so I was eager to read her new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In fact, I can't remember the last time I bought and read a book within a few weeks of it being published.  

The book is an easy read, written for a for a popular audience, and I was able to finish it in three relatively short sittings.

Below, I reflect on the book, hopefully in a balanced way. 

Thesis. As may be evident from previous posts of mine, I like Duckworth's thesis - essentially, that passion and perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals are important in achieving success. Duckworth is careful to caveat her thesis, noting at hard work and passion are important, but are not the only factors that matter in achieving success. With this caveat, her thesis seems rather obvious and uninteresting.

Grit ScaleThe Grit Scale Duckworth created for her studies seems easy to fake, and to her credit, she admits that it can be faked, like most self-reporting measures. Given the ability to fake the Grit Scale, I am not sure that it would be of much use in practical settings where the stakes are high (such as admissions or hiring). In one of the more interesting studies, Duckworth discusses how they gave the Grit Scale to West Point cadets before going through Beast Barracks (described as the toughest part of the four years). Supposedly, Grit scores did a nice job predicting who would stay and who would drop out. Given that the scale is easy to fake, maybe the interesting finding is not "those who actually have more grit perform better" but rather "those who think they have more grit (or are willing to lie that they have more grit) perform better. 

Parenting and Teaching. As a parent, I appreciated her chapter on parenting for Grit (though she admits that these are just her thoughts, and unlike other parts of the book, the parenting chapter is lacking directly applicable scientific studies). In particular, she notes the importance of being both supportive and demanding. This is also fairly obvious, but easy to forget, hard to consistently apply,  and important to remember. This instruction applies to teachers as well -- make clear that you have high expectations, but also communicate you are there to help and believe the students can meet the expectations with work. For a skeptics view, at least on the point of whether grit can be taught, see here

Creativity, Talent, Structural Barriers: While Duckworth admits that there are other factors that contribute to success, I didn't think she made a strong case for grit being more important than creativity or talent. In fact, most of the gritty people she mentioned had certain natural advantages over many others. While grit may be needed to get things done, it seems like creativity and talent and access are all necessary and may be even more important than grit in some cases. 

Anecdotes. There are a number of anecdotes in the book. The stories are less convincing than the academic studies, but the stories help illustrate her points. I especially liked the sports stories, including the ones about the UNC women's soccer team and the Seattle Seahawks. The coach of the UNC soccer team, for example, had his team memorize passages related to each team core value, and then also integrated the values into practices and games. Much better than a meaningless organization vision statement. 

All in all, I think the book was worth reading, if only to stay current on some of the theories that are likely to be talked about by educators at all levels, and to inspire more passion and perseverance in general.

For a fair and thoughtful critique of Grit see here

June 10, 2016 in Books, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Psychology, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 6, 2016

From Decatur Street to Hotlanta!

The first part of my June scholarship and teaching tour is now done.  Having just returned from the Law and Society Association conference in New Orleans (about which I will say more in later posts), I now am preparing for my presentation on Friday at "Method in the Madness: The Art and Science of Teaching Transactional Law and Skills," this year's conference hosted by Emory University School of Law's Center for Transactional Law and Practice.  Emory Law convenes these conferences every other year.  The conferences always focus on teaching transactional business law and skills.

Here's the abstract for my presentation:

Drafting Corporate Bylaws: From Alpha to Omega

The archetypal introductory law school course in business associations law characteristically introduces students to corporate bylaws. Typically, course references to corporate bylaws occur in the context of corporate formation and in cases construing corporate bylaws in the context of private ordering, fundamental corporate changes, and the like. Treatment of the subject is necessarily somewhat superficial and episodic. Although students may be exposed to bylaw provisions and even, in some cases, a sample set of corporate bylaws, little time exists in the standard basic Business Associations course to address the optimal drafting process for drafting organic documents (including corporate bylaws).

An advanced business associations offering or a business planning course, however, provides a wonderful opportunity to engage students in this type of activity and give them a deeper appreciation for the governance significance of corporate bylaws. For the past two years, I have taught a module in Representing Enterprises, a transaction simulation course offered to participants in The University of Tennessee College of Law’s Concentration in Business Transactions, that focuses on drafting bylaws for a closely held start-up corporation organized under Tennessee law. The module offers a sequenced approach to the construction of corporate bylaws, starting with an in-depth survey of applicable statutory and decisional law, progressing through the identification of forms and norms, and ending with individual and group drafting exercises. The five class meetings (ten classroom hours in total over a period of two-and-a-half weeks) in the module engage facilitated peer-to-peer teaching and focus on relevant drafting processes (incorporating and reflecting on the students’ approaches to the required course assignments) and resulting outtakes (more precisely, takeaways).

In this presentation, I will share in more detail the content of and pedagogy involved in this course offering. As support, I will supply all participants with the module syllabus and the staged series of assignments that I give to the students to execute on the embodied learning objectives. This presentation should be particularly useful to those offering, planning on offering, or considering offering a business entity planning and drafting opportunity for law students. But it also may be valuable for those teaching introductory doctrinal offerings in business associations law.

If you cannot be at the conference and are interested in the materials supporting or PowerPoint slides for this presentation, please just let me know.  

Also, you may want to note that many (most) presentations at the conference will be memorialized in a forthcoming volume of our student-edited business law journal, Transactions: Tennessee Journal of Business Law.  Transactions has been a partner of Emory Law in its biennial conferences from the start.  The Transactions volumes from the Emory Law conferences typically are quite popular among business law instructors.  I use my copies a fair amount.  So, you may want to get one of these, too.  Just fyi: the book usually comes out in the spring semester following the conference.  Also note that some of the included works are produced from transcripts of the proceedings (very tough to do) and some are papers prepared by the presenters on the topic of their presentation.

Atlanta, here I come!

June 6, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 3, 2016

Grit and Popular Press

I recently finished Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016) by Angela Duckworth (Penn Psychology).

Next week, I will post some reflections on the contents of the book, but for now, I would like to discuss professors publishing for a popular audience. Tongue-twisting alliteration unintended.  

I am thankful that Duckworth wrote this book for a popular audience rather than in a way that would target a narrow slice of academia. Even as a professor myself, I find books written for popular audience easier to digest, especially if in a different discipline. While popular press books often oversimplify, I would rather a professor author a popular press book on her studies (and studies in her field) than have a journalist attempt to explain them. Also, while a popular press book may oversimplify, professors tend to be intentional about avoiding claims that are too sweeping. Note that in this interview, like the book, Duckworth is careful to state that grit is not the only thing that contributes to success. Finally, especially when the professor has done the background academic work first, as Duckworth did in many peer-reviewed journal articles, a popular press book can reach more people and inspire change and may eventually lead to broader engagement with the underlying academic articles. 

Grit, as a popular press book, has already reached a large audience. Grit was published by Scribner: An Imprint of Simon & Schuster (not a university press) and jumped into the top-5 of The New York Times best-seller list for hardcover non-fiction. Duckworth had already reached well over a million people with her TED talk, and the book allowed her to be much more nuanced than she could be in a 6 minute speech. The TED talk was a gateway to her popular press book and perhaps her popular press book with be a gateway to the academic research she cites.   

One problem with engaging a large, popular audience is that the professor may lose control of her message, and people may misinterpret the findings. Duckworth looks like she is staying engaged in the conversation, however, and has, for example, written to argue against grading schools on grit

In short, there are certainly potential problems when writing about academic topics for a popular audience, but I am glad Duckworth took on the challenge and spread her research in this way. That said, as I will discuss next week, Grit does have weaknesses, in addition to its strengths.

June 3, 2016 in Books, Current Affairs, Haskell Murray, Psychology, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Heminway's June Scholarship and Teaching Tour 2016 - Part I

This year, my research and writing season has started off with a bang.  While grading papers and exams earlier this month, I finished writing one symposium piece and first-round-edited another.  Today, I will put the final touches on PowerPoint slides for a presentation I give the second week in June (submission is required today for those) and start working on slides for the presentation I will give Friday.

All of this sets into motion a summer concert conference, Barbri, and symposium tour that (somewhere along the line) got a bit complicated.  Here are the cities and dates:

New Orleans, LA - June 2-5
Atlanta, GA - June 10-11
Nashville, TN - June 17
Chicago, IL - June 23-24
Seattle, WA - June 27

I know some of my co-bloggers are joining me along the way.  I look forward to seeing them.  Each week, I will keep you posted on current events as best I can while managing the research and writing and presentation preparations.  The topics of my summer research and teaching run the gamut from insider trading (through by-law drafting, agency, unincorporated business associations, personal property, and benefit corporations) to crowdfunding.  A nice round lot.

This coming week, I will be at the Law and Society Association annual conference.  My presentation at this conference relates to an early-stage project on U.S. insider trading cases.  The title and abstract for the project and the currently envisioned initial paper (which I would, of course, already change in a number of ways) are as follows:

Continue reading

May 30, 2016 in Business Associations, Conferences, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Securities Regulation, Social Enterprise, Teaching, White Collar Crime, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Grade Inflation and Participation Trophies

A few months ago, Inside Higher Ed ran a story that noted "that grades continue to rise and that A is the most common grade earned at all kinds of colleges." (emphasis added).  This finding surprised me. I knew grade inflation was becoming more and more common, but I did not expect A to be the most common grade earned, especially in the undergraduate setting.

The article reported that A's accounted for "more than 42 percent of grades" and "A's are now three times more common than they were in 1960." (emphasis added).

This grade inflation trend is a mistake, in my opinion. And it is a trend that is impacting graduate schools as well. At the law school I attended, they moved from a 100-point scale and a 78-point mean when I attended, to letter grades and a much higher mean GPA. I understand why my alma mater made the move; they were very different than other law schools, even at the time, and a student with an 85% average had a tendency to be discounted by employers, even if that person was in the top 10% of her class. Business graduate schools may well have led the grade inflation charge, probably driven, at least in part, by employers who would only reimburse for a B or better in a class. Again, I think grade inflation is a mistake.

Is grade inflation simply an extension of the participation trophy phenomenon? "Entitled" might be the most common adjective I hear used to describe students today. "65% of Americans Say Millennials Are “Entitled,” 58% of Millennials Agree." And if these students grew up being rewarded for just showing up, why wouldn't they be entitled? For the most part, I agree with Pittsburg Steeler, James Harrison, who famously returned his children's participation trophies. To be clear, I think there is a place for team (and individual) achievement trophies and for most improved trophies, but trophies for just showing up seems to encourage mediocrity.

I also understand this mother's point of view, who argued in favor of participation trophies, given the situation of her "mildly intellectually disabled" son. She is concerned for "kids who don't have the chance to ever be the star athlete [or student] no matter how hard they work for it" and hopes for recognition "that not everyone is born with the same abilities." When teaching, my heart does go out to the C-student who appears to be doing his best, while a slacker gifted student may be able to get a B with minimal effort. We should encourage the determined C-student, but also teach him that achievement takes time and effort and is more difficult for some. I believe that former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden defined success well when he wrote: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming." I want my children and my students to know that I care about them regardless of their relative achievement. I want them to know that doing their very best is all that can be rightly expected. But I do not want to shelter them from the reality of failure. And I want them to realize that life is not always fair. And I want to help them to find a career well-suited for them, which may be aided by comparison to others over time.  

In light of all of this, how should we respond in our grading?

I think there has to be a discussion at the college and university level. Individual teachers are in a tough position. At most schools, a professor who believes that Cs are average, and As are only for true excellence, would be a significant outlier and could wreck individual student GPAs. Personally, I think colleges and universities need to establish a presumptive mean grade (and maybe some distribution requirements as well). The grade mean would have to have some flexibility, especially for smaller classes, where the high achieving students may be concentrated or absent from particular classes. I know there are some who find a required grade mean limiting, and an established mean is not without faults, but I think it is a more fair system and limits the race to grade inflation that is sure to occur if more flexibility is granted.  

While effort should be recognized and encouraged, grades and trophies should represent relative achievement. Competition is a reality of business. You don't get clients just by trying hard; you get clients by being the best. Students and athletes need to learn to compete, push through failure, and at some point realize that it may be best to move on to a different area.   

May 27, 2016 in Business School, Haskell Murray, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Guest Blog Post: Grading Law School Exams (in the UK) and Distributive Justice

It is that time of year again when law profs are up to their ears in grading exams. (Unless one teaches on the continent, where exams are oral.) Given my location in the UK, I thought I would provide a few insights on what we do here.  These are my own personal reflections and I may not be able to generalise about what gets done across the board, though in the UK we probably have more uniformity of policies among law schools and universities generally than in the US. What I am about to say is nowhere near complete in coverage. I want to focus here only on some differences which caught my particular attention as an American teaching in the UK.

Preliminarily, we don’t use the word “grading.”  The term is “marking.” This is terminological. They mean the same thing. I’ll stick to the American terminology here.

We allocate grading and just about every other task to be done in a British law school through something called a “workload allocation.” A workload allocation is a bit of distributive justice. It is meant to allocate work in the school fairly among all faculty (we say staff but I’ll stick to the US word). So, if you are called upon to chair a busy committee, you get credit for that in the workload. The workload will include time for you to do scholarship if scholarship is part of your job.

Here comes the interesting part for those of you saddled with large classes and large amounts of exam grading: exam grading is also subject to the workload allocation. You may be asked to grade in a course (a ‘module’) you did not teach.

Continue reading

May 26, 2016 in Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Another Teaching and Life Lesson on the Run: It's Easier at the Top and We Don't Get There Alone

Some time ago, I wrote the post Better Teaching Idea: Try to Notice When the Wind Is at Your Back. That post emerged from some observations while running, and today's post has the same origin.

This month I have been trying to up my miles again for no particular reason. I don't run for races. I run to run. And to feel like I am at least doing something to stay in some semblance of good shape (it's not really working).  I now run 4 miles most days. Maybe a little more or less, but that's the norm this month.  The past two days, I ran from my house, which is at the top of a hill. It is more of a mountain when I am running up it. (I promise, I am getting somewhere with this.)  

I often go down to the rail trail along the river, which is a mostly flat, pretty place to run.  The last two days, I have been running from my house. This means that if I want to get any distance in, I need to go down the mountain.  And, of course, it means I need to get back to the top.  Now, I could stay at the top.  It's relatively flat on our street, and I can run a quarter of a mile down and back and stay at the top of the mountain. That's a lot of down and backs to get in four miles.  No thanks. It's easier, but not much fun. (Note: you can follow along my running escapades on Twitter @jfershee and Nike+.

IMG_8642
The Mon River Trail: A Mostly Flat, Pretty Place to Run

My usual route from my house takes my down the mountain, then back up the mountain, where I turn around and retrace my steps.  That means I am running up the steepest part of the run at mile 3.5.  It's not always my favorite part of the run, even if it is my most triumphant.  As I was slogging my way back up the mountain, my mind wandered and I caught myself thinking again, "It would have been a lot easier to just stay at the top."  And it is. It's true in running, and it's true in most everything else we do.  

IMG_8849
Pace over elevation - slow pace today.

It doesn't matter how you get to the top.  Once you're there, it's easier to stay there than it was to get there.  It may take a lot of work to get to the top. For most people, it does. But someone can just take you to the top, too. Once you're there, it's easier to stay there. And once you leave, it's hard to get back up. 

Knowing all of this is important.  And it is important to remember that not everyone has the same amount to climb to get to the top of whatever it is they are climbing.  I did not come from money, but I had everything I needed.  I am a straight, white male. The data show that starts you ahead of the game.  I went to good public schools.  I went to college. And law school.  This required a lot of work to move ahead, but the opportunity was there for me in a way it isn't for many.

It's easy to start thinking that everyone is starting from the same point.  And it's a lot easier to notice the people who are ahead of you on the way up. It's not that often that we look back, which can skew our perspective in unproductive ways.  

As teachers, it's important to recognize that we can be part of helping our students move up their mountain.  And they may not be starting from the same place we were. They may have further to go. Some may have less.  It's our job to help them get where they want go.  As a corollary, it's also important to remember that just because they might have farther to go, it's not our job to limit the mountains they can climb. To the contrary, it's our job to help them see that the sky truly is the limit. 

That's my take away for the day: as hard as it is to keep climbing to the top, don't ever think you're doing it alone.  Appreciate who helped you. Keep slogging. And when you get to the top, don't forget to see if you can help someone else up.   

May 24, 2016 in Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning 2016 Summer Conference: Real-World Readiness

The Institute for Law Teaching and Learning 2016 summer conference is focusing on "the many ways that law schools are preparing students to enter the real world of law practice."  The conference is being held at Washburn University School of Law.  The agenda and registration information are available here.

May 6, 2016 in Conferences, Joan Heminway, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Commencement Speeches and Ordinary Work

It is commencement season – our commencement at Belmont University is tomorrow. Commencement season means commencement speeches. Commencement speeches often comes with an extra helping of cliché advice. If I had to guess, no piece of cliché advice is more common in commencement speeches than “follow your passion in your career.”

For example, in Steve Job’s famous Stanford commencement speech he said:

You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.

Jim Carey, in an otherwise pretty original and somewhat odd commencement speech, included some of the cliché “follow your passion” advice when he said:

My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

Like almost any cliché, the “follow your passion” instruction contains some wisdom. I do think there are students who take conventional jobs out of fear, and fear shouldn’t drive a decision as important as career choice. That said, I also think this cliché advice can do a good bit of harm. I see students overly focused on trying to find work that fits with their current interests --- music, sports, travel, etc. --- or work that they think will “change the world" and make them feel good in the process. As a result, students often ignore work that may seem ordinary, but is just as important, if not as glamorous.

Accounting, mentioned in Jim Carey’s speech, is actually one of those areas that students often pass over as “ordinary work” or turn to reluctantly, out of fear.  Few people I know have a natural passion for accounting. But I have seen a passion for accounting develop over time. As the philosopher William James said

Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.

Most work is “ordinary” work. Even the splashy work celebrated in commencement speeches (and indirectly celebrated by the choice of commencement speakers) has ordinary elements, or was, at the very least, preceded by less unique work. I worry that students, attempting to follow the advice of Jobs, Carey, and others, bounce from job to job trying to find work that makes them feel good immediately and all the time. While I don’t necessary think “do what you love” is bad advice, I think it needs to be tempered with “find work the world needs and that fits your talents,” “do good work wherever you are,” and “know that most work is needed and important, even if it does not grab headlines.” I wish we took more time at our universities to celebrate the day-in, day-out grind of the faithful, ordinary worker. And I am trying to impart to my students that their future work matters, even if it seems common and doesn’t receive much recognition.

May 6, 2016 in Business School, Haskell Murray, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Keynote Speakers Announced for Emory Law Conference on Transactional Law and Skills

I am looking forward to attending and presenting at Emory University School of Law’s upcoming conference (June 10-11) focused on the art and science of teaching transactional law and skills.  I received word yesterday from Sue Payne, the Executive Director of Emory Law's Center for Transactional Law and Practice, that the keynote speakers for the conference are "the dynamic duo of Martin J. Katz and Phoenix Cai will deliver a keynote address entitled – 'Encouraging this Particular Form of (Very Fun) Madness – Roles for Deans and Faculty Members.'" The notice se sent to me on the keynote speakers offers the following information about Professors Katz and Cai and the conference as a whole:

Marty Katz is Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law. Under his leadership, Denver Law developed and implemented a major strategic plan that included initiatives in experiential learning and specialization. He is a founding board member of Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers, a national consortium of law schools that serve as leaders in the experiential education movement. Dean Katz’s recent publications include “Facilitating Better Law Teaching – Now” (Emory Law Journal) and “Understanding the Costs of Experiential Legal Education” (Journal of Experiential Learning).    

Phoenix Cai is the founding director of the Roche International Business LLM Program and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law. The Roche LLM in International Business Transactions is an intensive and experiential graduate program designed to train both U.S. and foreign lawyers in private transactional law. Prior to joining Denver Law, Professor Cai was a corporate lawyer specializing in both domestic and international mergers and acquisitions, banking, finance, and securities law.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Dean Katz and Professor Cai share their thoughts about how deans and faculty members can promote excellence in transactional law and skills education.

For more information about the Conference, including a list of the many other esteemed presenters and the topics they will cover, go to our conference website. If you would like to register for the Conference, please go here.

I hope to see many of you there.  My presentation focuses on teaching the drafting of corporate bylaws.  I will say more on it in this space later.

May 4, 2016 in Conferences, Joan Heminway, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Visiting Tax Professor Position at Tulane

Hello, everyone - I'm passing this along in case any of our readers have an interest, or know anyone who might have an interest.  And if anyone needs convincing as to why they should spend a semester or a year in New Orleans, email me privately and allow me to extol the city's virtues.

Tulane Law School is currently accepting applications for a visiting tax professor for either the Fall of 2016 or for the entire 2016-2017 Academic Year.  Visitors would be expected to teach basic Income Tax and other tax related courses.  Applicants at any career stage are encouraged.  To apply, please submit a CV along with a statement of interest and any supporting documentation.  Applications and questions may be directed to Vice Dean Ronald J. Scalise Jr. at rscalise@tulane.edu.   Tulane University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer committed to excellence through diversity.  All eligible candidates are invited to apply. 

 

April 28, 2016 in Ann Lipton, Jobs, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 18, 2016

2016 Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) Teaching Conference - Call for Panels and Papers

Call for Panels and Papers


Society of American Law Teachers (SALT) Teaching Conference
in partnership with the
LatCrit-SALT Junior Faculty Development Workshop

SALTlogo

www.saltlaw.org
Friday and Saturday, September 30 and October 1, 2016
The John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois

From the Classroom to the Community: Teaching and Advancing Social Justice

In 2015, law school applications hit a fifteen-year low. The drop reflects a radically changed employment market and a prevailing view that law school is no longer a sound investment. To attract qualified applicants and respond to a changing marketplace, many law schools have embraced experiential learning mandates and other “practice-ready” curricular shifts. The plunge in applications has also prompted law schools to lower admissions standards. In turn, the admission of students with below-average LSAT scores and modest college grade point averages has created new concerns about bar passage, job placement, and prospects for longterm professional success.

In this environment, the legal academy is faced with unprecedented challenges. On one hand, pressure exists to ensure that students are adequately prepared to navigate a courtroom, draft legal documents, and exhibit other “practice-ready” skills upon graduation. At the same time, law professors are urged to cover a wide spectrum of theory, rules, and doctrine to increase prospects for bar passage. In the struggle to achieve both goals, the critical need to integrate social justice teaching into the curriculum is often overlooked, rejected as extraneous, or abandoned in light of time constraints.

To the contrary, social justice teaching plays an essential role in improving legal analysis, enhancing practical skills, and cultivating professional development. Moreover, social justice teaching can help instill passion, commitment, and focus into students burdened with debt and facing an uncertain job market. Most important, as the legal marketplace contracts, access to counsel for lower- and middle-income people continues to grow -- creating a pressing need for effective and committed pro bono lawyers.

In response to new educational and professional challenges, law schools and the legal profession must join in a concerted effort to integrate social justice teaching into the classroom and expand social justice throughout the community. This conference will provide opportunities to engage in broad, substantive, and supportive discussions about the role of legal education and the legal profession in teaching students to become effective social justice advocates and the ways faculty can set an example through their own activism.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

1. Innovative methods to incorporate social justice concepts into the law school curriculum.
2. Strategies to encourage students to become more engaged in academic and community activism.
3. Collaborative efforts between law schools and the legal profession to respond to the need for greater
access to legal services.
4. Techniques to help law students and new lawyers develop resilience, stamina, and “grit” to face the
enduring challenges of social justice advocacy.
5. Responses to the ever-increasing cost of legal education and its impact on social justice and access
to justice.

We welcome other related topics and encourage a variety of session formats. You may submit a proposal as an individual speaker, as a panel, or group. Whatever your topic and format, please use the required format as provided below for your proposal.

Please send your proposals to Hugh Mundy (hmundy@jmls.edu) by June 15, 2016.

Other members of the SALT Teaching Conference Committee include Margaret Barry (mbarry@vermontlaw.edu), Emily Benfer (ebenfer@luc.edu), Davida Finger (dfinger@loyno.edu), Allyson Gold (agold@luc.edu), and Aníbal Rosario Lebrón (anibal.rosario.lebron@gmail.com). Please share information about
the Teaching Conference with your colleagues, particularly new and junior faculty, who are not yet members of SALT. Visit www.saltlaw.org for additional details.

Required Format for Proposed Presentations

Please submit all proposals by using the bolded headings set forth below.

1. Title of proposed presentation

2. Presenter name and contact information

Submit contact information for each individual who will participate in the presentation; however, you must identify one person to serve as the primary contact person. The contact person is responsible for receiving and transmitting information about the SALT conference to the other members of the panel.

Contact person:

Presenter’s school (as listed in the AALS Directory) and mailing address
E-mail
Office phone number
Mobile phone number
Fax number

Other panel members (if applicable):

Presenter’s school (as listed in the AALS Directory)
E-mail

3. Summary of the proposed presentation.

The description or narrative portion of the proposal should accurately and succinctly describe the content, format, and anticipated duration of the presentation. The ideal length of the summary is approximately one page of double-spaced text.

4. Related papers or documents (if applicable).

We do not expect all submissions to include related scholarship or documents- especially at this early point in the process; however, if you have any related documents that help to support or illustrate your proposed presentation, feel free to attach them to your submission.

April 18, 2016 in Call for Papers, Conferences, Joan Heminway, Research/Scholarhip, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Imagine This: First-Semester Second-Year Students in Your Business Associations Class Who Already Have a Sense of Transactional Practice . . .

This is not a pipe dream!  I honestly believe that in the fall of 2017, this will be a reality for me.  (I typically teach Business Associations in the fall semester to a large number of students who understand "cases," not "deals.")

The reason for my good spirits and honest belief in the positive change in my students?  Our new 1L curriculum, which is rolling out this fall.  No doubt, we will find some changes that need to be made as we implement our relatively bold plan.  But I am truly excited that the new first-year curriculum exposes every student to a transactional experience in the first year of law school.  

There are many reasons for implementing this kind of change, of course.  Among other things, this new approach to the first year at UT Law responds to suggestions that we got from our students and represents an effort to better connect the 1L year to our upper division curriculum (on which we have spent a lot of time over the years).  The new 1L transactional offering is part of a larger plan constructed by a College of Law committee, chaired by my colleague (and e-discovery queen) Paula Schaefer, that spent several years looking at our overall curriculum and that of many other schools before fashioning a number of alternative options for the faculty to review.  

The implementation involves a lot of work.  Many colleagues are chipping in to construct new courses and re-fashion existing courses to meet the new curricular requirements.  It takes a village.  I am grateful for all of the work being put in.  I work with a great bunch of folks.

An article in the National Jurist last week describes the new 1L curriculum in general.  Our academic policies, however, add some detail.  I quote from them below, with some reformatting for easier reading in this space.

For students entering in or after Fall 2016, the first-year curriculum is as follows:

First Semester
Civil Procedure I* (3)
Contracts I (3)
Criminal Law (3)
Lawyering & Professionalism (1) Legal Process I (3)
Torts I* (3)

Second Semester
Civil Procedure II (3)
Contracts II (3)
Legal Process II (3)
Property (4)
Torts II (2)
Transactional Lawyering Lab (1)

*First-year students enroll in an experiential section of either Civil Procedure I or Torts I. The experiential sections include three graded, simulation-based assignments. Each simulation places students in the role of lawyer, raises professionalism issues, requires students to perform a lawyering skill, and results in a written and/or oral work product. In addition to a final examination, the course also includes a midterm exam that includes at least one essay question.

We are pretty excited to get this new curricular show on the road.  I look forward to sharing more with you as we see how students react in the short term and long term.  But my UT Law colleagues and I are very hopeful that this new approach to the first year will lay a strong foundation for upper division academic work and for practice.

 

April 18, 2016 in Business Associations, Joan Heminway, Law School, Lawyering, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Can Consumer or Investor Pressure Make a Difference on Corporate Actions? The Carnival Conundrum

Today in my Business and Human Rights class I thought about Ann's recent post where she noted that socially responsible investor Calpers was rethinking its decision to divest from tobacco stocks. My class has recently been discussing the human rights impacts of mega sporting events and whether companies such as Rio Tinto (the medal makers), Omega (the time keepers), Coca Cola (sponsor), McDonalds (sponsor), FIFA (a nonprofit that runs worldwide soccer) and the International Olympic Committee (another corporation) are in any way complicit with state actions including the displacement of indigenous peoples in Brazil, the use of slavery in Qatar, human trafficking, and environmental degradation. I asked my students the tough question of whether they would stop eating McDonalds food or wearing Nike shoes because they were sponsors of these events. I required them to consider a number of factors to decide whether corporate sponsors should continue their relationships with FIFA and the IOC. I also asked whether the US should refuse to send athletes to compete in countries with significant human rights violations. 

Because we are in Miami, we also discussed the topic du jour, Carnival Cruise line's controversial decision to follow Cuban law, which prohibits certain Cuban-born citizens from traveling back to Cuba on sea vessels, while permitting them to return to the island by air. Here in Miami, this is big news with the Mayor calling it a human rights violation by Carnival, a County contractor. A class action lawsuit has been filed  seeking injunctive relief. This afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in saying Carnival should not discriminate and calling upon Cuba to change its rules. 

So back to Ann's post. In an informal poll in which I told all students to assume they would cruise, only one of my Business and Human Rights students said they would definitely boycott Carnival because of its compliance with Cuban law. Many, who are foreign born, saw it as an issue of sovereignty of a foreign government. About 25% of my Civil Procedure students would boycott (note that more of them are of Cuban descent, but many of the non-Cuban students would also boycott). These numbers didn't surprise me because as I have written before, I think that consumers focus on convenience, price, and quality- or in this case, whether they really like the cruise itinerary rather than the ethics of the product or service. 

Tomorrow morning (Friday), I will be speaking on a panel with Jennifer Diaz of Diaz Trade Law, two members of the US government, and Cortney Morgan of Husch Blackwell discussing Cuba at the ABA International Law Section Spring Meeting in New York. If you're at the meeting and you read this before 9 am, pass by our session because I will be polling our audience members too. And stay tuned to the Cuba issue. I'm not sure that the Carnival case will disprove my thesis about the ineffectiveness of consumer pressure because if the Secretary of State has weighed in and the Communist Party of Cuba is already meeting next week, it's possible that change could happen that gets Carnival off the hook and the consumer clamor may have just been background noise. In the meantime, Carnival declared a 17% dividend hike earlier today and its stock was only down 11 cents in the midst of this public relations imbroglio. Notably, after hours, the stock was trading up.

April 14, 2016 in Ann Lipton, Conferences, Corporate Governance, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Ethics, Financial Markets, Human Rights, International Law, Law School, Marcia Narine, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Health and Law School

Law school can and should be an enriching intellectual experience. For many, however, the three years of law school can also be extremely unhealthy.

What responsibility, if any, do we have as legal academics to encourage healthy behavior by our students? How do we do so?

Many law students have horrendous sleep, exercise, and eating habits. Many of these habits carry over into practice, and probably play at least some role in the numerous, documented health and addiction issues facing law students and lawyers. For undergraduate students, many schools mandate physical education and/or nutrition courses. Should these courses be offered to or mandatory for law students?

Are there things that we are doing as legal educators that encourage unhealthy habits? For example, is testing only once a semester part of the problem or is it simply preparing them for stressful, important events like the bar exam or a big trial?

Just opening this topic for discussion; I don't think I have good answers yet. Feel free to respond in the comments or send me thoughts via e-mail. I think I lean toward letting law students make their own decisions in this area, especially because some students are older, second-career types. But, given all the problems law students and lawyers face, I wonder if it would be valuable to require something like a one-credit, ungraded course of health and nutrition, which include some exercise time and general health instruction.

March 18, 2016 in Haskell Murray, Law School, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Elson, Ferrere, and Goossen on Volkswagen

For those of you who talk about the recent problems at Volkswagen in your classes, this recently posted article may be useful. I connected with Charles Elson briefly when I lived in Delaware, and he is certainly an authority on corporate governance. The article is available here and the abstract is posted below. 

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Although the primary cause of the emissions scandal at Volkswagen appears to have been misfeasance and malfeasance on a corporate-wide scale, we argue that such a problematic culture existed at Volkswagen because of the composition of the board itself in combination with the unique governance structure known as “co-determination,” that defines many German companies, including VW. There are three major problems from a corporate governance standpoint with the Volkswagen board. First, is the interest-conflicting nature of the dual-class stock held by the dominant shareholding Porsche and Piech families. Second, is the presence of a government as a major shareholder. And third is the organization of its characteristically German “two-tier” board around the principle of co-determination, which mandated significant labor representation. We argue that each of these elements of the VW ownership and governance structure contributed in varying degrees to the board failure of oversight that led to the management decision to evade emissions regulations.

March 4, 2016 in Business Associations, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Ethics, Haskell Murray, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)