A JD degree is a gateway to various career alternatives. One of these opportunities, teaching law in a business school, receives little publicity and often is overlooked by law school graduates.
Business schools traditionally have offered two business law teaching options. One is a full-time tenured or tenure-track position with teaching, research and service responsibilities. The other is the opportunity to teach courses on a part-time basis. In recent years, they have created another type of full-time position that focuses on teaching. While these positions carry a heavier teaching load, they typically do not include the research responsibilities of a tenured position. At Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, 11 of the 28 full-time positions in the Business Law & Ethics Department are held by nontenure-track faculty.
How does teaching law in a business school differ from teaching in a law school? I will use examples from my experience to illustrate the differences and will then provide advice for those interested in this career option.
My entry into business law teaching
I started my career as the only associate in a small general practice firm in Adrian, Michigan (population 20,000). I grew up on a farm near another small town (Medina, Ohio) and, unlike most of my classmates at the University of Michigan Law School, had no desire to join a big city law firm. I enjoyed my work at the firm, and the two partners were wonderful role models. After a year or so, however, I questioned whether I should test other opportunities before becoming fully entrenched in a small-town practice.
One of my options was teaching. In 1973, I submitted my resumé to the Association of American Law Schools and to a national association of business law professors, the Academy of Legal Studies in Business. I selected the business school path when the ALSB immediately sent me information about a business law opening at Bowling Green State University’s College of Business, only 50 miles from Adrian. When Bowling Green offered me a position, I decided to try teaching for a year. My one-year trial period stretched to 50 years after the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business offered me a position in 1974.
Differences between teaching in law and business schools
The nearly 1,000 members of the ALSB teach undergraduate and graduate courses in business schools. While their experiences inevitably do not follow the same pattern, here are general features I have experienced in teaching business law:
- Business law professors tend to be generalists, and required courses may cover several topics. One of the required undergraduate business law courses at Indiana University, for example, includes torts, contracts and government regulation, while another required course focuses on business ethics. However, business law professors also teach specialized elective courses. The Legal Studies & Business Ethics Department the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, for instance, offers a total of 38 undergraduate and 27 MBA courses covering topics such as real estate law, securities regulation, employment law and legal aspects of entrepreneurship.
- Teaching business law provides an opportunity to teach students at different levels. Business schools typically have large undergraduate programs, along with smaller MBA programs. They also offer executive-level teaching opportunities, including executive MBA and short executive education programs.
Regardless of the course level, teaching law in a business school has a different focus than law school teaching. A chapter on Wharton’s Richard Shell in Seven Essentials for Business Success: Lessons from Legendary Professors illustrates this difference. Shell has won over two dozen teaching awards, and a “Day in the Life” feature in the chapter summarizes his academic responsibilities outside the classroom. The emphasis in his courses, unlike law school courses, is on teaching students how to identify legal issues when making business decisions so that they will know when to seek legal advice. He also teaches them how to understand the legal analysis that is necessary to successfully implement their lawyers’ advice.
- Business law teaching is more applied than theoretical. During my law school experience, we often analyzed and debated the policies behind legal principles. Business law courses give greater attention to how the law impacts business decision-making. As a result, experience in a law firm is a useful background for teaching business law. In fact, full-time teaching positions, which carry titles such as professor of practice or clinical professor, may require law practice experience.
- Given the unique skills of law school graduates, business law professors have opportunities to assume leadership positions on campus. The members-only section of the ALSB website lists many business law professors who have served in leadership positions at their universities. The current presidents of the University of Georgia and the University of Minnesota, for example, started their academic careers as business law professors.
- Business law professors have many international teaching opportunities. After U.S. businesses expanded their operations globally many years ago, business schools followed suit by offering courses abroad. In my career, I have taught courses during multiyear engagements in Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Italy and Luxembourg.
- Business law professors have an opportunity to work with colleagues from a variety of disciplines. The departments in a business school often mirror the functions in a corporation, including accounting, finance, marketing, operations and strategy. Easy access to colleagues in these areas can enrich business law teaching and research.
Teaching law in a multidisciplinary environment also has challenges. Colleagues in other areas may not understand legal research, including the role of law reviews edited by students in publishing rigorous research. And during curriculum reviews or when requesting faculty positions, business law professors need to convince colleagues of the value that business law adds to the careers of business school graduates.
Pursuing a business law teaching career
The starting point for information about a business law teaching career is the ALSB website, which includes a section on job postings. The website also includes information about annual national and regional conferences, teaching resources, a mentorship program that pairs new faculty members with experienced professors, two highly respected business law journals and special interest sections in areas such as employment law, international law, and sports and entertainment law.
Two sources of general career information are available to supplement specific ALSB information about business law teaching careers. The ABA Career Center contains a treasure trove of resources on career development, along with a job board. The National Association for Law Placement also provides many career resources, including an annual employment report. Both of these valuable sites are highly recommended whenever you consider teaching or other career options.
George Siedel is the Williamson Family Professor Emeritus of Business Administration and the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus of Business Law at the University of Michigan. His email address is [email protected].
Mind Your Business is a series of columns written by lawyers, legal professionals and others within the legal industry. The purpose of these columns is to offer practical guidance for attorneys on how to run their practices, provide information about the latest trends in legal technology and how it can help lawyers work more efficiently, and strategies for building a thriving business.
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This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.