Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Today, part of the assignment for my Securities Regulation students was to read a chapter in our casebook and, as assigned by me, come to class prepared to teach in a three-to-five-minute segment a part of the assigned reading. The casebook is Securities Regulation: Cases and Materials by Jim Cox, Bob Hillman, and Don Langevoort. The chapter (Chapter 7, entitled "Recapitalization, Reorganizations, and Acquisitions") covers the way in which various typical corporate finance transactions are, are not, or may be offers or sales of securities that trigger registration under Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the "1933 Act"). I have used this technique for teaching this material before (and also use a student teaching method for part of my Corporate Finance course), and I really enjoy the class each time.
I find that the students understand the assigned material well (having already been through a lot of registration and exemption material in the preceding weeks) and embrace the responsibility of teaching me and each other. I am convinced that they learn the material better and are more engaged with it because they have had to read it with a different intent driven by a distinct objective. For their brief teaching experience, each student needs to understand both the transaction at issue and the way in which it implicates, does not implicate, or may implicate 1933 Act registration requirements. They do not disappoint in either respect, and I admit to being interested in their presentations and proud of them.
I also find that changing my role principally to that of a listener and questioner refreshes me. I organize and orchestrate the general structure of the class meeting and come to class prepared with the knowledge of what needs to be brought out during the session. But since I cannot control exactly what is said, I must listen and react and help create logical transitions and other links between the topics covered. In addition, I can create visuals on the board to illustrate aspects of the "mini-lectures" (as I did today when a student was explaining a spin-off transaction). I honestly have a lot of fun teaching this way.
There are, no doubt, many ways in which we can engage students in teaching course material in the classroom that may have similar benefits. What are yours? When and how do you use them to make them most effective? Teach me! :>)
Monday, March 16, 2015
The depth of everyone's knowledge varies from subject to subject. I have a deep understanding of many areas of securities law, but a very shallow understanding of physics. (I’m not even in the wading pool.) But, even in subjects I teach—business associations, securities law, accounting for lawyers—the depth of my knowledge varies from topic to topic.
When I’m teaching the Securities Act registration exemptions, my knowledge base is very deep. I research and write primarily in that area. I know the law. I know the lore. I know the policy.
In other areas, my knowledge is much shallower. In some cases, I know just enough to teach the class. My business associations class sometimes touches on entity taxation issues, but I’m far from an expert on entity taxation. (My tax colleagues would say “far, far, far.”)
One’s knowledge deepens over time, of course. That’s one of the great joys of becoming an expert, whether you’re a law professor or a practitioner. I know more now about every topic I teach (including entity taxation) than I knew when I began teaching 27 years ago.
Several years ago, I decided to teach a course on investment companies and investment advisers. I started from scratch. I had no such class in law school and I didn’t practice in that area, so I had to learn the details myself before teaching the class. Now, having taught the class many times and having written two articles that deal with issues in the area, my knowledge base is much deeper.
All law professors have shallow and deep areas of knowledge. Over time, all of us should try to deepen our knowledge in the shallower areas. This improves our teaching and, less obviously, improves our scholarship. I tell my students that a broad education benefits the specialist, and my own experience confirms that. I have often drawn on what I learned in one of my shallower areas while writing an article in a deep area.
Professors also need to be careful that our teaching isn’t negatively affected by our shallow and deep areas.
- Be sure your course coverage (and your exam coverage) is based on the importance and relevance of the topics and the needs of the students, not on your knowledge base. There’s a natural psychological tendency to focus on what we know best, which is usually also what we’re most interested in. Don’t minimize a topic just because your knowledge of the topic is shallow. Don’t stress a topic just because your knowledge is deep. I would like to spend my entire securities regulation course talking about Securities Act exemptions, but I don’t.
- Be careful to maintain the same classroom atmosphere in shallow and deep areas. When I’m teaching in a deep knowledge area, I’m often just scratching the surface of what I know. I sometimes have to fight to stay excited about the material and avoid going on autopilot. When I’m teaching in a shallow area, the discussion is fresher and more exciting to me. I’m more likely to learn from my students and I can empathize with their struggles to master the material. The key is to keep an even keel—to keep the discussion equally fresh and exciting, no matter how deep or shallow your knowledge.
- Don’t overwhelm the students with your deep knowledge. They need to spend some time in the shallow end before you can take them into the depths. It’s taken you years to develop your deep knowledge; you can’t replicate that for your students in an hour or two.
- Admit when your knowledge is shallow. “I don’t know” is a perfectly appropriate response even when your knowledge is deep, even more so when your knowledge is shallow. And “I don’t know” is much better for you and your students than trying to fake it. Use these opportunities to deepen your knowledge and get back to the students with your answer. I can’t count how many times in my career I have faced situations like that.
I apologize for disillusioning any readers who, based on this blog, believed I was omniscient and had deep knowledge of everything.
Friday, March 13, 2015
If you keep up with higher education news, you have already read about the decision to close Sweet Briar College. This story hit close to home, in part because I am a professor and in part because I graduated from a small liberal arts college.
My biggest question is why the administration took so long to tell the students and faculty. By making the announcement in the spring semester, the administration seems to have harmed students who will be looking to transfer and faculty members who will be looking for new jobs. More reading on the faculty members' situation is available in The Atlantic.
Given the general demand for students, I assume the students will be able to find new college homes, though their options might be be somewhat more limited than if the announcement were made in the fall. Most of the Sweet Briar College faculty members, however, will be in an incredibly tough bind. Most academic hiring happens during the fall semester.
With a nearly $100 million endowment (some of which is supposedly restricted), one wonders whether the administration could have kept the school open for one more school year, for the benefit of the faculty and students looking for a place to land. Alternatively, what prevented an announcement this past fall? Perhaps administration worried about students and faculty leaving en masse if given longer lead time, but if the school is closing anyway, I do not see why that would be a problem. Perhaps creditors played a role?
Also, I wonder why the school did not make a more desperate and direct plea to their alums. Instead of abruptly announcing that the school would close, why didn't the administration say that the school would close unless they raise X dollars in Y time period?
As outsiders, we obviously do not know all the facts, but, in any event, it appears to be a sad situation.
One of my pet peeves when I was in practice was working with junior lawyers or student interns who refused to take a position on anything when I asked for research. Perhaps because of the way law schools teach students, they tended to answer almost every question with “on the one hand but on the other hand.” This particularly frustrated me during my in house counsel years when I was juggling demands from internal clients in over a dozen countries and just wanted to know an answer, or at least a recommendation. Over at Legal Skills Prof Blog and PrawfsBlawg, they lay part of the blame on issue spotting exams. I use issue spotting essay exams, so perhaps I am perpetuating the problem, but I find that students have a love-hate relationship with ambiguity. They like to be ambiguous in essays but hate ambiguity in multiple choice questions.
I just finished administering multiple choice exams to my civil procedure and business associations students. Typically, I use essays for midterms and a combination of testing techniques for the final exam. I’m not a fan of multiple choice because I believe that students can get lucky. On my final exams I use some standard multiple choice but I also use a hybrid style where students have to pick the correct answer and then write one sentence about why each other choice was wrong. It's a pain to grade, but I get an idea as to how much they really understand. But with a combined 130 exams for midterms, I decided to go with the straight multiple choice. In addition to making life easier for me with grading, it will help prepare the students for the bar exam.
I chose to ask particularly complex multiple choice questions. The civil procedure students didn’t just have to answer about personal jurisdiction. Most answers combined at least two other topics or federal rules, in some instances with at least one part that could be incorrect. The BA exam was similar. After both exams a number of students complained that the questions were too ambiguous and they would have preferred essays. Ironically, many of the students who were most concerned about the nature of the questions did very well on the exam, which leads me to believe that some of them lack the confidence in their own analytical abilities.
I think students prefer essays because of the freedom to do the “this/that” or “throw everything on the wall and see what sticks” type of "analysis." With the multiple choice questions that I used, the students had to do a much deeper level of analysis to choose the right answer- or to determine that none of the answers fit- which they hate. Often the concepts were restated in a way that probably wasn’t in their notes or the book. Those who memorized suffered the most.
Yesterday, I reminded my students that the law is ambiguous. Lawyers must think on multiple levels very quickly to answer what may seem like a simple question. In the alternative, often students overthink issues when the answer is more obvious.
If you have any thoughts on how to get students more comfortable with deeper levels of analysis and navigating through ambiguity, please post comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Today in my Energy Law Seminar, I sprung an exercise on my class. I gave each member of the class a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Half the class works for a venture fund and the other half works for a technology inventor who was seeking investment. (I give them some more details about the proposed deal the NDA would help facilitate. (The exercise is based on an issue I worked on some years ago.)
I instruct them to read the NDA, then they can meet with others assigned the same side. They can come up with their negotiating points, then I turn them loose with the other side.
I always enjoy watching students work like this. They are forced to react, and it lets them be a little creative. I also like this exercise, because it has multiple layers. They get to ask me me what they need to know for the business points, and I later get to talk to them about the options they may not have considered.
I have done this a few times, and the students always negotiate what they see as the key issues. Their issue spotting is usually good, but they often miss a big option (a couple students do often have an idea what's up). Here's the twist: the NDA I give them is absurdly one-sided and in fact reserves the secret information for the venture fund (who is only providing money), and not the inventor (who has the technology and information they want kept secret).
They can, of course, negotiate with this document and try to get a workable NDA based on the deal points, but the better answer for the investor representatives is to decline the entire document. The NDA is so one sided, there is no fixing it. The better answer is to ask for a more balanced version or to offer to draft one for the potential counterparty to consider.
Sometimes, of course, you have no room for negotiations, such as when you rent a car. You can mark up the contract, but with Avis, it's take it or leave it. The same can be true for certain clients who need funding or a supply contract, but often, there is room to talk. The real life version of the negotiation provides a perfect example: I told the venture fund the NDA was too one-sided and that it couldn't work for us. I suggested that we could try a draft or that we'd be happy to look at a different option. The venture fund's reply: "Oh sure, we have one that is far more balanced that doesn't have the provisions that seem to concern you most. You'll have an email in a few minutes."
When we talk about deal points and key issues, sometimes it's easy to forget to teach students some other big keys to business law. The takeaways:
(1) If at all possible, only use draft documents that reflect a sense of mutuality (e.g., reciprocal indemnification clauses). "Fixing" one-sided documents is fraught with risk.
(2) Don't be afraid to ask. Often, though I don't care for it, people like to start with offers to "see what I can get." (I see this as counterproductive, at least where a long-term relationship could be built.)
(3) Negotiate in proportion to the issue before you. The NDA is often so you can negotiate the deal. If you make that initial part too antagonistic, you may never even get to negotiating the actual deal, which can mean everyone loses.
Friday, March 6, 2015
It’s always nice to be validated. Day two into torturing my business associations students with basic accounting and corporate finance, I was able to post the results of a recent study about what they were learning and why. "Torture" is a strong word-- I try to break up the lessons by showing up to the minute video clips about companies that they know to illustrate how their concepts apply to real life settings. But for some students it remains a foreign language no matter how many background YouTube videos I suggest, or how interesting the debate is about McDonalds and Shake Shack on CNBC.
My alma mater Harvard Law School surveyed a number of BigLaw graduates about the essential skills and coursework for both transactional and litigation practitioners. As I explained in an earlier post, most of my students will likely practice solo or in small firms. But I have always believed that the skills sets are inherently the same regardless of the size of the practice or resources of the client. My future litigators need to know what documents to ask for in discovery and what questions to ask during the deposition of a financial expert. My family law and trust and estates hopefuls must understand the basics of a business structure if they wish to advise on certain assets. My criminal law aficionados may have to defend or prosecute criminal enterprises that are as sophisticated as any multinational corporation. Those who want to be legislative aides or go into government must understand how to close loopholes in regulations.
What are the top courses students should take? The abstract is below:
We report the results of an online survey, conducted on behalf of Harvard Law School, of 124 practicing attorneys at major law firms. The survey had two main objectives: (1) to assist students in selecting courses by providing them with data about the relative importance of courses; and (2) to provide faculty with information about how to improve the curriculum and best advise students. The most salient result is that students were strongly advised to study accounting and financial statement analysis, as well as corporate finance. These subject areas were viewed as particularly valuable, not only for corporate/transactional lawyers, but also for litigators. Intriguingly, non-traditional courses and skills, such as business strategy and teamwork, are seen as more important than many traditional courses and skills.
Did you take these courses? Has your school started adding more of this type of coursework and does your faculty see the value? Do you agree with the results of this survey? Let me know in the comments or email me at email@example.com.
March 6, 2015 in Business Associations, Corporate Finance, Corporate Governance, Corporations, Current Affairs, Jobs, Law School, Marcia Narine, Securities Regulation, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)
Friday, February 27, 2015
I've enjoyed getting to know a bit about University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth's work on "grit." Duckworth and her co-authors call grit "perseverance and passion for long-term goals," and they claim that grit can be predictive of certain types of success.
Can we, as educators, teach grit? If so, how? Duckworth asks, but doesn't fully answer these questions in her popular TED talk. She does, however, think Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck's work on growth mindset, which I wrote about a few months ago, offers the most hope.
Do readers have any thoughts on this subject? Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me your thoughts.
Friday, February 20, 2015
I have just finished a draft of an article arguing that disclosures don’t work because consumers and investors don’t read them, can’t understand them, don't take any real action when they do pay attention to them, and fail to change corporate behavior when they do threaten boycott. I specifically pointed out the relative lack of success of consumer protests over the years. I also noted that Wal-Mart continues to get bad press for how it treats its employees despite the fact the Norwegian Pension Fund divested hundreds of millions of dollars due to the company’s labor practices, prompting other governments and cities to follow. My thesis—it takes a lot more than divestment and threats of boycott to change company behavior. But perhaps I’m wrong. Yesterday, Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon announced a significant wage increase declaring:
We’re strengthening investments in our people to engage and inspire them to deliver superior customer experiences… We will earn the trust of all Walmart stakeholders by operating great retail businesses, ensuring world-class compliance, and doing good in the world through social and environmental programs in our communities.
The letter to Wal-Mart associates is here. I don’t know which was more striking, the $1 billion dollar move to $9 and then eventually $10 per hour or the fact that he used the word “stakeholders.” Wal-Mart also announced changes that would affect health insurance and shift scheduling, but the main headline concerned the wage hike. Main Street may be happy but Wall Street was not, and the stock price fell after the announcement. Others pointed out that the pay raise is still not enough to pull workers out of poverty.
Does this move mean that boycotts and advocacy really do work and that we will see more of them? Do I have to edit my article or will this be an anomaly? Will other big retailers or fast food chains follow? Will socially responsible investors reinvest in Wal-Mart? Is Wal-Mart trying to pre-empt government regulation on the minimum wage? Is Wal-Mart signaling to regulators in foreign countries that it cares about workers so should be allowed to operate there more freely?
I will be teaching a course in transnational business and international human rights in the Fall and Wal-Mart will be a case study. A few years ago, I used the company’s CSR report in my corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility seminar. I asked the students to consider why Wal-Mart’s report looked and felt so different from Target’s, which essentially has many of the same labor issues. I wanted them to think about the marketing behind CSR from a reputational and regulatory perspective. I posited that Wal-Mart’s CSR report was written for regulators. Two weeks later, the company announced its massive and still ongoing bribery investigation. I’m happy for the workers but a bit curious as to what caused the company to make this announcement now. In the meantime, I will be watching the reaction from advocates, the markets, and other companies closely.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The internet age has brought tremendous access to information. As kids, many of us were used to the familiar refrain from our parents, "Go look it up." That meant getting out a dictionary or the Encyclopedia Britannica (volumes of books) to see if we could figure out unique facts about the Tasmanian Devil (my fourth-grade report subject), which is "the world's largest carnivorous marsupial." Things have changed.
Today, telling someone to look it up means a trip to the computer, and probably Google, Bing, Yahoo or some other search engine. Maybe it could mean a news service like the New York Times, and of course Westlaw, LexisNexis, or Bloomberg for legal issues. If I needed any evidence things have changed for all of us, I recently asked my nine-year-old son to put the "word book" he got out to help with his homework. He looked at me and asked, "You mean the dictionary?" Um, yeah.
Anyway, with all this information at our fingertips, I am regularly amazed how often I could tell people to, "Look it up." Students regularly ask me questions that they could easily look up themselves, and it happens with colleagues or vendors, too. I have always liked finding the answers to questions, so it usually doesn't bother me much. I like to be the source of information. But when it's really easy to find -- as in "What's the population of West Virginia?" -- it's a little disappointing.
In a time where people are often looking for an edge to make themselves more valuable to their employer, I suggest that people should be more inclined to look things up. Try to save questions for times when you really need the help.
Monday, February 16, 2015
It may just be my students, but it seems there is a renewed interest in business law careers among law students. Several of my students this year who had originally started down a path toward a career in another area of law have happily and passionately settled, somewhat late in the game, on being business lawyers. Somehow, after taking Business Associations and other foundational business law courses, they've been bit by the business law bug. And they are incredibly talented students--high up in their class in terms of rank and well worthy of employment in a firm or business or government. One is my research assistant.
We have been working together and with the folks in our Career Center to identify relevant geographical and employer markets. But I am seemingly engaged in a continuous struggle to help each of them (a) to enhance his resume to reflect his new-found business law passion (given that each already had accepted a second summer job somewhat or totally outside the business law area when he refocused on business law as a career path) and (b) to make the new connections that he needs to make in order to successfully pursue his revised career path. How can a middle-aged academic almost 15 years out of practice help a 3L business law job-seeker to make his resume more relevant, his contact list deeper, and his interviews more effective?
Thursday, February 12, 2015
My seventy business associations students work in law firms on group projects. Law students, unlike business students, don’t particularly like group work at first, even though it requires them to use the skills they will need most as lawyers—the abilities to negotiate, influence, listen, and compromise. Today, as they were doing their group work on buy-sell agreements for an LLC, I started drafting today’s blog post in which I intended to comment on co-blogger Joan Heminway’s post earlier this week about our presentation at Emory on teaching transactional law.
While I was drafting the post, I saw, ironically, an article featuring Professor Michelle Harner, the author of the very exercise that my students were working on. The article discussed various law school programs that were attempting to instill business skills in today’s law students. Most of the schools were training “practice ready” lawyers for big law firms and corporations. I have a different goal. My students will be like most US law school graduates and will work in firms of ten lawyers or less. If they do transactional work, it will likely be for small businesses. Accordingly, despite my BigLaw and in-house background, I try to focus a lot of the class discussion and group work on what they will see in their real world.
I realized midway through the time allotted in today’s class that the students were spending so much time parsing through the Delaware LLC statute and arguing about proposed changes to the operating agreement in the exercise that they would never finish in time. I announced to the class that they could leave 10 minutes early because they would need to spend at least another hour over the next day finishing their work. Instead most of the class stayed well past the end of class time arguing about provisions, thinking about negotiation tactics with the various members of the LLC, and figuring out which rules were mandatory and which were default. When I told them that they actually needed to vacate the room so another class could enter, a student said, “we just can’t get enough of business associations.” While this comment was meant to be a joke, I couldn’t help but be gratified by the passion that the students displayed while doing this in-class project. I have always believed that students learn best by doing something related to the statutes rather than reading the dry words crafted by legislators. My civil procedure students have told me that they feel “advanced” now that they have drafted complaints, answers, and client memos about Rule 15 amendments.
I am certainly no expert on how to engage law students, but I do recommend reading the article that Joan posted, and indeed the whole journal (15 Transactions: Tenn. J. Bus. L. 547 (2014). Finally, please share any ideas you have on keeping students interested in the classroom and prepared for the clients that await them.
February 12, 2015 in Business Associations, Business School, Conferences, Corporations, Delaware, Joan Heminway, Law School, LLCs, Marcia Narine, Negotiation, Teaching, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
I am a list maker. I make daily to do lists, grocery lists, research plans, workout schedules (that quickly get jettisoned) and complicated child care matrices necessary in two-career families. How else am I supposed to remember and keep on my radar all of the things that I am supposed to be doing now, or doing when I have time, or things that I can't forget to do in the future? One area where I feel deficient is in planning my conference travel/attendance. It always feels either a little ad hoc (ohh I got an invitation and I never say no to those!) or a little out habit (once you have presented at a conference it is easier to be asked to participate in future panels). Rarely does it feel like a part of an intentional plan for the year where I set out to prioritize conference A or break into conference B.
Realizing that this year there are 3 corporate law events within 10 days of each other is seriously making me reconsider my approach. I need a conference list-- a way to plan for the coming year, prioritize opportunities and frankly, schedule grandparent visits (read: child care) when I need to travel for more than a night or two.
Below is my running list of annual or nearly annual events, but I know that I am missing big pieces of the conference puzzle. Please contribute in the comments so we can create a list of some standard corporate law events (great for new teachers, great for those looking to expand their research circles, etc.). Updated to reflect suggestions in comments & put in approximate order of timing.
- AALS Annual (and Mid-year) Meeting (January; call for papers and/or invited participation spring & summer)
- Society for the Advancement of Behavioral Economics "SABE" (January; call for papers summer/fall)
- C-LEAF Junior Faculty Workshop (Feb. 27-28, 2015, a call for papers in the summer)
- Law and Entrepreneurship Retreat (UGA, March 21, 2015, a call for papers was released late 2014)
- Tulane Corporate Law Institute (March 2015 workshop; paid attendance & invited participation)
- Institute of Law & Economic Policy (ILEP) symposium (in April, by invitation)
- Annual Transactional Clinical Conference (occurs annually; April 24, 2015; call for paper circulated fall 2014)
- Law and Society Association "LSA" (late May 2015; calls for papers & coordinated panel submissions and round tables Fall 2014)
- National Business Law Scholars ( June 2015; call for papers available Dec. 2014)
- Berle Center Symposium at Seattle University (schedule varies; invited papers & attendance)
- Emory Teaching Transactional Law & Skills Conference (every 2 years usually in summer; call for papers announced)
- American Law & Economics Association (May 15, 2015; call for papers late fall terminated January 2015)
- Southeastern Association of Law Schools "SEALS" (July/August 2015; call for papers in the fall & coordinated panel submissions; papers due in spring)
- Midwestern Law and Economics Association "MLEA" (usually in the fall; call for papers late summer)
- Canadian Law and Economics Association Annual Meeting (Toronto, Fall 2015, a call for papers in the spring)
- ABA LLC Institute (usually October conference; workshop attendance & invited participation)
- Conference on Empirical Legal Studies (Wash U, October 30-31, 2015, a call for papers in the late spring)
- Corporate and Securities Litigation Workshop (Boston University, early November, expect a call for papers in the spring)
- Henry G. Manne Programs at George Mason ( programs occur throughout the year; workshop attendance)
- Various Harvard Law Corporate Governance Round Tables (programs occur throughout the year; invited attendance/ participation)
Monday, February 2, 2015
On December 22 and again on January 9, I posted the first two installments of a three-part series featuring the wit and wisdom of my former student, Brandon Whiteley, who successfully organized a student group to draft, propose, and instigate passage of Invest Tennessee, a state crowdfunding bill in Tennessee. The first post featured Brandon's observations on the legislative process, and the second post addressed key influences on the bill-that-became-law. This post, as earlier promised, includes Brandon's description of the important role that communication played in the Invest Tennessee endeavor. Here's what he related to me in that regard (as before, slightly edited for republication here).
Students, want to learn more in law school? Look back, not just forward. As the semester begins, instead of focusing solely on the new classes you’re taking, review the exams you took last semester. Those exams aren’t just for assigning you a grade; you can also use them as a learning tool.
Read the exam questions and your answers. Look at the professor’s comments on your exam and any model answers the professor has provided. What did you get wrong? What in the course did you misunderstand? If some areas are still unclear to you, make an appointment with the professor and review the exam with him or her.
If you do that, you’ll have a much better understanding of the courses you took than if you let your learning stop at the end of your final moment of exam preparation. Professors constantly reevaluate what we know and whether we’re right; you should too. You don’t want to carry that B grade into your legal career; you want to be an A lawyer. If you review your exams, you emerge from that review process with a better understanding of the subject matter.
You might think you’ll never use that material again, but it’s surprising what you draw on in practice. When I was in law school, back when we were chiseling our exam answers on stone tablets, I took a conflict of laws course just because I thought it was interesting. I didn’t think I would ever use it in practice. To my surprise, two years out of law school, I was faced with a major choice-of-law research question. Don’t assume you can leave those old courses behind when you graduate. And, if it comes up, you want to understand it as well as you possibly can.
Few of my students take advantage of the opportunity to review exams. I have never had more than a handful of students stop by to review their exams or even ask me questions about something on the exam. Some semesters, I see no students at all. I don’t even see students who did badly on my Business Associations exam and are taking more advanced courses from me. You would think those students especially would want to clear up where they went wrong.
I provide model answers, so it’s possible students are reviewing those, but I doubt it. My guess is that most students are thankful to have the past semester’s exams behind them and don’t look back as they breeze on to the next semester’s classes.
If students are interested only in earning the credit required for their eventual graduation, that attitude is understandable. But I hope that most of my students are interested in more than just obtaining a credential required to practice. I hope they’re interested in learning as much as they can to be the best lawyers they can be. If that’s their goal, they ought to be reviewing their exams.
Monday, January 26, 2015
For the last three years, I have been teaching my Accounting for Lawyers course as a distance education course. It’s only available to students at my law school, but everything except the final exam is online; there are no in-person classes. I think it’s worked well, better than the in-person accounting class I used to teach, but that’s a topic for another day. Today, I want to talk about four things I’ve learned teaching the course.
1. Law students are not used to “learning as they go.”
The typical law school class involves a single end-of-semester exam, and law students get used to pulling things together by cramming at the end of the semester. Almost all of my students read the daily assignments, but many of them, even some of the most conscientious students, really haven’t actively wrestled with the material.
I usually teach by the problem method, and I use books with a large number of problems. I strongly urge students to answer those problems before class. Almost all of my students read the problems before class; many of them think about the problems before class; but it’s clear that few of them have thoroughly worked their way through the problems .
In my online course, assignments are due every week. Students must learn the material as they go, or they won’t be able to do the assignments. Cramming at the end is not an option. They learn in the first couple of weeks that the shallower daily preparation that works in many law school classes won’t work in Accounting. As their study habits change, they learn more, but it requires a real adjustment on their parts.
2. Regular practice and feedback is important.
The educational literature stresses the value of regular practice and feedback (or even regular practice without feedback). I use the problem method in all of my classes because of that. It forces students to apply the materials on a daily basis, with in-class feedback from me. Seeing how much more students learn in my Accounting course, with its regular assignments and feedback, just reinforces that point.
3. If there’s an ambiguity in anything, at least one student will find it.
I didn’t really learn this lesson teaching the online course. It’s obvious every time I grade an exam. No matter how good the casebook, no matter how careful I am in class, some students will manage to misinterpret something. Law students are experts at finding ambiguity. This shouldn’t surprise us; it’s one of the things we teach them to do. The problem is often not due to a failure to read or listen, but a single-minded focus on some isolated statement taken out of context.
In a course like Accounting that has weekly assignments, I don’t have to wait until the final exam to see those misunderstandings, and I can correct them before they do too much damage. But seeing misunderstandings like this on a weekly basis has also made me much more careful in my other classes, more aware of possible ambiguities in the readings and what I say. I would rather over-explain than risk a semester-long misunderstanding.
4. Oral communication is better than written communication, especially for criticism.
In an online course, I’m forced to communicate with my students almost exclusively in writing. Writing, unlike direct, oral communication, is very bad at conveying nuance or sentiment. That difference is especially important when my communication is primarily critical, correcting and evaluating student work.
Students, like most of us (including me), are sensitive to criticism. And, unless one is very careful, they tend to see critical comments as more negative and personal than they are intended to be. As I’m not a particularly careful person when it comes to criticism or anything else (the word “blunderbuss” is relevant), this is problematic.
In person, my true intent comes through more easily. I recently heard, second-hand, a comment from a student who had taken Accounting and was now in one of my in-person classes. He reportedly said, “I thought Professor Bradford was really mean after Accounting, but I like him in this course.”
Thursday, January 22, 2015
I have just returned from Dublin, which may be one of my new favorite cities. For the fifth year in a row, I have had the pleasure of participating as a mentor in the LawWithoutWalls (“LWOW”) program run by University of Miami with sponsorship from the Eversheds law firm. LWOW describes itself as follows:
LawWithoutWalls, devised and led by Michele DeStefano, is a part-virtual, global, multi-disciplinary collaboratory that focuses on tackling the cutting edge issues at the intersection of law, business, technology, and innovation. LawWithoutWalls mission is to accelerate innovation in legal education and practice at the same time. We collaborate with 30 law and business schools and over 450 academics, students, technologists, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, business professionals, and lawyers from around the world. We seek to change how today’s lawyers approach their practice and how tomorrow’s lawyers are educated and, in so doing, sharpen the skills needed to meet the challenges posed by the economic pressures, technologization, and globalization of the international legal market. We seek to create the future of law, today. Utilizing a blend of virtual and in-person techniques, LawWithoutWalls offers six initiatives: LWOW Student Offerings,LWOW Live, LWOW INC., and LWOW Xed.
I first joined the program as a practitioner mentor and have now served as an academic mentor for two years. Each team has students from law or business school who develop a project of worth addressing a problem in legal education or the legal profession. Mentors include an academic, a practitioner, an entrepreneur, and an LWOW alum.
In the LWOW Live version, the students and mentors meet for the first time in a foreign city (hence the trip to Dublin) and then never see each other in person again until the Conposium, a Shark-Tank like competition in April at the University of Miami, where they present their solution to a venture capitalist, academic, and practitioner in front of a live and virtual audience.
Over the period of a few months the students and mentors, who are all in different cities, work together and meet virtually. Students also attend mandatory weekly thought leader sessions. Past topics have included developments in legal practice around the world and the necessity of a business plan. For many law students, this brings what they learned in Professional Responsibility and Business Associations classes to life. At the Dublin kickoff, audience members watched actual live pitches to venture capitalists from three startups, learned about emotional intelligence and networking from internationally-renowned experts, and started brainstorming on mini projects of worth.
This year, I am coaching a virtual LWOW Compliance team working on a problem submitted by the Ethics Resource Center. My students attend school in London and Hamburg but hail from India and Singapore. My co-mentors include attorneys from Dentons and Holland and Knight. The winner of the LWOW Compliance competition will present their solution to the Ethics Resource Center in front of hundreds of compliance officers. In past years, I have had students in LWOW Live from Brazil, Israel, China, the US, South Africa, and Spain and mentees who served as in-house counsel or who were themselves start-up entrepreneurs or investors. Representatives from the firms that are disrupting the legal profession such as Legal Zoom serve as mentors to teams as well. In the past students have read books by Richard Susskind, who provides a somewhat pessimistic view of the future of the legal profession, but a view that students and mentors should hear.
As I sat through the conference, I remembered some of the takeaways from the AALS sessions in Washington in early January. The theme of that conference was “Legal Education at the Crossroads.” Speakers explained that firms and clients are telling the schools that they need graduates with skills and experience in project management, technology, international exposure, business acumen, emotional intelligence, leadership, and working in teams. Law schools on average don’t stress those skills but LWOW does. Just today, LWOW’s team members were described as "lawyers with solutions." I agree and I’m proud to be involved in shaping those solutions.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Today, unlike most Mondays during the school year, I will not be in the classroom. The University of Tennessee is closed in celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., our nation's iconic non-violent civil rights leader. Today also is the day that my daughter is in transit back to her college in New York for her last semester as an undergraduate. It seemed only fitting, honoring both occasions, to go out on Friday night with my daughter and my husband to see the movie Selma.
Despite its historical inaccuracies (which have been played out in the public media, e.g., here), the movie is a successful one. Among other things, it spoke to me of the amazing amount that one man can accomplish in a mere 39 years with focus, action, and perseverance. I admittedly felt a bit lazy and ineffectual by comparison.
Selma also reminded me, however, of the near daily opportunities that King had to speak out on matters of public importance. I wondered if there was anything in his teachings that would speak directly to me today. Specifically, I wondered if I could find something he'd said that helped to guide me as a business law professor in the current business law or legal education environment.
Of course, King spoke out against Jim Crow laws, which provided for legal segregation of the races in both businesses and education. But I was looking for something a bit more personal. Then, I found this quotation: "The function of education . . . is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. . . . Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education."
Every U.S. law school, or at least every law school I’m aware of, offers a securities regulation course. But those courses usually focus on the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. A typical securities regulation course covers the definition of security, materiality, the registration of securities offerings under the Securities Act, and liability issues under both the Securities Act and the Exchange Act. If the professor is ambitious, those courses may also cover the regulation of securities markets and broker-dealers.
Almost none of those basic securities regulation courses spends any significant time on the 1940 Acts—the Investment Company Act and the Investment Advisers Act. It’s not because those two statutes are unimportant. A good proportion of American investment is through mutual funds and other regulated investment companies, not to mention hedge funds which depend upon Investment Company Act exemptions. And the investment advisory business is booming. When I attend gatherings of securities lawyers, I’m always amazed at how many of the lawyers present are dealing with issues under the 1940 Acts.
The lack of coverage of the 1940 Acts in the basic securities law course would be acceptable if law schools offered separate, stand-alone courses dealing with those issues, but many of them do not. I began teaching a course on the 1940 Acts in 1997. (I subsequently expanded the course to include a segment on the regulation of brokers.) At that time, you could count the number of law schools offering 1940 Act courses on one hand. Since then, more law schools have begun to offer such courses, but many law schools still do not.
Why are law schools not offering such an important business law course? One problem may be staffing. Many schools, including my own, have only one securities law professor. That person often also has to teach Business Associations, Mergers and Acquisitions, and other such courses, leaving no time for a second securities course. I have been able to offer my course only by rotating it with Mergers and Acquisitions on a biennial basis.
The lack of 1940 Act courses may also be due to the backgrounds of people teaching securities law. Some (certainly not all) securities law professors come from the litigation side of practice. Securities litigation centers on the 1933 and 1934 Acts. Litigation is a less important part of practice under the 1940 Acts, so many securities litigators aren’t exposed to it much.
A third problem is a lack of teaching materials. There isn’t much available on the 1940 Acts. I was lucky when I began teaching the course to discover a set of materials put together by Larry Barnett at Widener University. Those materials, supplemented with my own handouts and problems, have worked well. Unfortunately, Larry just retired and will no longer be updating his materials, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do now. I suspect more people would teach the course if more books were available, but there’s a chicken-and-egg problem. The major publishers aren’t interested in offering materials for a course that few schools teach.
Whatever the reason, the lack of such courses is a serious deficiency at any school preparing students for a securities law practice.
I'm interested to hear from commenters: are there any other courses law schools aren't teaching that are crucial to business law practice?
Friday, January 16, 2015
Every semester, in an attempt to learn my students' names and a bit about them, I ask my students to fill out a student information form with a few questions. This semester I added the question: "What do you think makes a professor effective?"
The vast majority of the responses fell into one of the four categories below (listed in order, from most to least responses):
- Real world experience/real world examples
- Fairness in grading
- Clarity in teaching
- Approachability and accessibility
I am teaching over 100 total students (undergraduate and MBA) this semester, and nearly every student mentioned something that would fall into at least one of those four categories.
Perhaps these responses do not surprise readers, and they were not incredibly surprising to me. The ordering, however, was a bit surprising, and I am not sure I would have expected to see "approachability" in the responses as much as I did. In any event, the responses were helpful in confirming that my time "staying current," meeting with local attorneys/business people, and consulting is well spent - at least in the eyes of my students.
Is there anything in the students' responses that is surprising to readers? Is there anything missing from the list? (There were plenty of other answers but most of the repeated answers fell into one of the four categories.)
Friday, January 9, 2015
A few weeks ago, I described to you a really special extracurricular project undertaken by one of my students, Brandon Whiteley, now an alum, this past year. The project? Proposing and securing legislative passage of Invest Tennessee, a Tennessee state securities law exemption for intrastate offerings that incorporates key features of crowdfunding. The legislation became effective on January 1.
In that first post, I described the project and Brandon's observations on the legislative process. This post highlights his description of the influences on the bill that became law. Here they are, with a few slight edits (and hyperlink inserts) from me.