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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Professor Spotlight: Omri ben Shahar

Omri1 Omri Ben-Shahar joined the University of Michigan Law School in 1998, after teaching for three years at Tel-Aviv University.  He had also served as a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a panel member of Israel's Antitrust Court, and clerked at the Supreme Court of Israel.

He spent five years in the early 90’s at Harvard University, where he earned a SJD and a Ph.D in economics.  At Michigan, he teaches Contracts and Law-and-Economics, and he founded the Olin Center for Law and Economics.  He is a regular participant in the annual meetings of the American Law and Economics Association.  This year he has joined the AALS Contract Section Executive Committee as an at-large member.

Omri2

The unexpected contracts scholar

“When I was in graduate school, I didn’t expect to end up a contracts scholar,” he says.  “My dissertation work focused on economic analysis of liability rules in tort law, a field in which I am still actively writing. But it was during the transition to Michigan, when I started teaching contract law, that I realized how much I like the substance matter of this field, and that this is where I enjoy using my background in economics.”

Omri has published several articles applying the economic approach to contracts.  “My writings in contract law have been influenced greatly by the work of three people, with whom I also had the privilege of collaborating in research. Lucian Bebchuk was my mentor in law school, and, among other things, started me thinking about the topic of pre-contractual liability, which has featured prominently in my recent work.  Lisa Bernstein, in our joint work and in numerous conversations over the years, helped me identify interesting questions to ask, and to look beyond strict economic logic for responses.  And Avery Katz’s work, applying game theory to the analysis of contract doctrine, inspired me to do my own research in the intersection of game theory and the law.”

One of his recent activities was organizing the successful recent symposium on Freedom from Contract, which was published last year in the Wisconsin Law Review.  His own article in this symposium, “Agreeing to Disagree,” provides a novel solution to the problem of agreements-to-agree.  Some of his other recent work includes a series of articles on duress, including a forthcoming law review article titled, “Credible Coercion.”  He is now working on a more comprehensive treatment based off the ideas from his controversial article, “Contracts without Consent,” 152 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1829 (2004), which will be published as a book with the same name by Harvard University Press.

Favorite cases to teach?  Raffles v. Wichelhaus and ProCD v. Zeidenberg.  To keep fresh, he uses a different casebook every couple of years for his contracts course.  Most recently, he uses Fuller-Eisenberg and Murphy-Speidel-Ayres but will soon switch to Summers-Hillman.  He's currently preparing to teach an e-commerce course for the first time.

Omri3 Omri, 42, lives in Ann Arbor but often returns to Israel.  He is married to Sarah Clarke (left), whom he met at law school, and they have three young children.  He says that his interactions with his kids inspired many of his ideas for scholarly research; particularly, observing their nuanced understanding of what promises mean and when they expect promises to be kept.

Omri has a personal website http://www-personal.umich.edu/~omri/ that contains links to his working papers, photos, and other materials from courses that he teaches.

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