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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

ContractsProf Spotlight: Chapin Cimino Cody

Spotlight_2_6_4_3 Chapin Cimino Cody (Drexel University)
BA, Denison University
JD, University of Chicago

Dsc_7695 Chapin Cimino Cody is part of the inaugural faculty at Drexel Law School, where she will teach Contracts.

The paths I’ve followed haven’t always been well-illuminated. The one I’m on now, in fact, has led me to a brand new, pre-accredited law school (albeit one at an established, well-regarded research institution). The “story” of how I ultimately found this job is that, while I did realize in my first or second year of law school that teaching law would be the best job imaginable, I didn’t begin then meticulously plotting an academic trajectory. Instead I went down a few side roads and soon enough I found my way to the right place. 

I didn’t start out looking for the side roads, however. In law school I followed the crowd to the doors of the big New York firms. I decided to spend my second summer at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. I genuinely liked the firm, so I accepted their offer to join the litigation practice after graduation. But a detour to Philadelphia to clerk changed that plan.  In the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, I saw many interesting things: impeccably written briefs, skilled oral advocates, sophisticated commercial disputes, and young women being given a lot of responsibility on pending cases.  Some of these revelations came as quite a surprise, as every New York lawyer I had known insisted there was no sophisticated commercial litigation outside of New York.  Still, these observations, coupled with what seemed to be an oddly high divorce rate among the New York lawyers, convinced me to stay in Philadelphia. So I told my firm I wouldn’t be coming that fall after all. The utility of this move was at best uncertain given one bit of conventional wisdom, which is that pedigrees from fancy New York firms certainly help aspiring teaching candidates down the road.

In Philly I practiced commercial litigation at a great firm, Pepper Hamilton, and got tremendous experience. I worked at a high level on lots of different commercial matters -- contract, antitrust, securities, copyright and trademark. I also got some practice experience in public law areas, namely first amendment and higher education work, which I loved. I got trial experience, mediation experience, mentoring experience -- all kinds of good stuff. I worked at a sane place with good people and did well.

Then my first daughter arrived. At the time my spouse was consulting (read: traveling 4-5 days/week) and I knew I couldn’t do what I needed to do and keep all fronts covered adequately, so I took a big risk and took an extended maternity leave. The last time I checked, “extended maternity leave” is not on anyone’s list of “how to get a teaching job” (Leiter?  Wendel?). I ended up staying out for two years – having a second child (another daughter) almost right away and also teaching for the first time.  To stay engaged while I was out, I taught “media law and ethics” as an adjunct to undergraduates at a local university.

Shortly after returning to practice I knew that it was time to start making the move to academia.  Two years ago I started teaching legal writing at Villanova University Law School, which was another serendipitous but very worthwhile experience. In that time I learned a lot about legal education, law schools as institutions, law students, and teaching. I was also able to publish an article and put myself on the market. Viewed ex ante, the article I wrote was not the most predictable path to success, either, because I took a pass on the received wisdom that an entry-level candidate should choose a topic and construct a thesis in order to maximize her placement possibilities. Instead I wrote about what was on my mind, which was standing in a certain class of discrimination suits.  Then, lo and behold, Drexel University decided to open a law school, right here in Philadelphia. I took myself off the market and the rest is (very recent) history.   

For anyone unfamiliar with this recent history, which is probably just about everyone reading this, or anyone curious about what it is like to start a new law at an established institution, I recommend a post on the subject written by my colleague, Dan Filler, at Concurring Opinions.  The crux: “this is entrepreneurship, on someone else’s dime.  Anything is possible.”

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