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Monday, July 10, 2017

Teaching Spotlight: "Picturing Corporate Practice" (Jay A. Mitchell - Stanford)

Spotlight2From time to time on ContractsProf Blog, we like to highlight innovative or interesting teaching materials that will be of interest to our readers. Jay A. Mitchell is the Director of the Organizations and Transactions Clinic at Stanford Law School and is the author of Picturing Corporate Practice (West Academic). In the current push for pedagogy and materials to create law graduates who are more "practice ready," Professor Mitchell's text stands out with its approachable and innovative design choices for engaging students. I asked the Picturing Corporate Practice author if he would tell us more about his book in a guest blog post.

Without further ado, let me turn this post over to Professor Mitchell:


Picturing Corporate Practice is a blend of text and visuals intended to introduce students to corporate and transactional work.

The book includes a brief overview of corporate practice and chapters focused on advice development, transaction planning and management, contracts and other legal documents, board meetings, litigation (from a corporate perspective), SEC filings, corporate pro bono, and client service.

Jay-a-mitchell-3-400x400The fun part here is that I collaborated with a graphic designer on the thing. We used a landscape format, paid close attention to layout and typography, built in lots of white space, included 50+ diagrams, timelines, and other graphics, and used a conversational writing style throughout. I’m a big believer in the value of design and typography for legal work-products, course materials, and other information products --   the book reflects that belief.

And I tried to draw on my experience not only from the Stanford Law School clinic but also as a former senior lawyer at a big company (and thus client) and law firm partner, and on the input of the five former students who read the entire manuscript.

Several notes about goals and themes:

  • Orientation. Most importantly: I wanted simply to orient folks to the work. Corporate is unfamiliar to most students. I tried to provide some broader ways of thinking about the practice and what we do as corporate lawyers -- build things, design processes, produce products that people use, manage projects, engage in a craft. I think those frameworks can help students start to get their head around the job.


  • Documents. The book gives considerable attention to contracts and other legal documents, the core products of the trade. It discusses reading, a fundamental lawyer activity that in my view doesn't receive the attention it deserves. It identifies document characteristics -- business focus, variety, functionality, visibility, longevity, etc. -- and how law is “underneath” and reflected in our documents. There’s coverage of practical tasks like document planning, working with forms, and proofreading. The idea was not only to demystify but also cultivate an appreciation for the many dimensions and implications of legal documents, and for what it takes to do them well.


  • Getting Started on a Problem. The book provides tangible suggestions for getting started on a project or document. Students and new lawyers often don’t know how to get going on assessing a business situation, or dealing with a big contract -- I see that in the clinic all the time. So the book includes ideas about how to get traction, how to start getting a grip on a problem, and emphasizes the relevance of common sense and commercial sensibility.


  • Visual Thinking. I wanted to make the case for one of those practical suggestions: drawing pictures to facilitate thinking and collaboration. Drawing is an unusually effective tool for thinking, and something that we don’t talk about much in law school. The book includes a brief general discussion, grounded in research from psychology, cognitive science, engineering, and other disciplines, and then lots of ideas and examples across the practice.


  • How Things Work. The book includes how-things-work information and vocabulary. Like, what’s a closing? How do covenants and conditions work together? What do board resolutions do? How does an IPO work? What’s a T&R schedule? When the partner says “we need to make conforming changes,” what does she mean? What’s an officers’ certificate? These are questions folks may be reluctant to ask, and stuff that people in firms rarely explain.


  • Habits of Mind. The book emphasizes the central importance of ways of working and professional disciplines: organization, attention to detail, project management, diligence, stamina, responsiveness, service orientation…. all things especially important early in one’s career, and generally not big topics of emphasis in school.


  •  Fun. I try to be direct but encouraging, and to suggest the intellectual and professional enjoyment in the job -- which can be easy to lose sight of in the grind of law school and especially law firm life.

We use this book as a text in my clinic, and it could be used in other transactional skills courses as well; the chapters on deal work and board meetings are relevant to, say, an M&A course. I think the book could be used in 1L lawyering skills and legal writing classes and in contracts and contract drafting courses, with the two chapters about documents being of particular relevance. I’d also love to see visual methods be introduced in lawyering skills or comparable 1L courses -- it’s really useful in this line of work. 

Outside of skills and contracts-oriented classes, I can imagine that corporations instructors might find useful the chapter about board meetings. Evidence instructors who want to add a touch of corporate to the curriculum could use the chapter about litigation, which centers on record building and attorney-client privilege in the transactional setting. Public interest and pro bono instructors might find the pro bono chapter useful in briefing students about nonprofit organizations. And the increasing number of lawyers and others interested in legal design might find both the visual methods discussion and the book design itself of interest.

So, the book is a little different, both for the transactional skills space and for the legal education genre generally. I hope folks find it helpful.


More information on Picturing Corporate Practice is available here. Thanks to Jay Mitchell for providing this guest post.

Do you have any innovative contracts, commercial, or transactional teaching materials that would be of interest to our readers that we could highlight on ContractsProf Blog? If so, drop me (Mark Burge) an email with the information, and you might be our next featured guest post.

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