Geis Takes on New Role as Vice Dean
George Geis, an expert in corporate law and contracts, has been named the new vice dean of the University of Virginia School of Law.
"George Geis is an analytically careful thinker and thoughtful, organized administrator," said Dean Paul G. Mahoney. "He joins a succession of outstanding scholars and teachers who have agreed to serve the Law School in this important role."
Geis succeeds UVA law professor Mary Elizabeth Magill, who will start her new role as dean of Stanford Law School on Sept. 1. The vice dean oversees academic matters and helps enrich the intellectual life of the law school, including by organizing the curriculum and assisting in recruiting new faculty. Geis also will help manage the Student Records Office and work with the Office of Student Affairs.
"My immediate goal is to continue along the course charted by my predecessors. We have a well-governed law school with amazing students and faculty and a collegial culture that is the envy of our peers," Geis said. "My first priority is to continue to support our students and faculty in their academic and scholarly pursuits. At the same time, we are fortunate to be presented with dozens of great opportunities each year, and I want to help position our law school to take maximum advantage of these."
Geis, who has served as director of the Law School's Program in Law & Business since 2008, worked as a consultant for McKinsey & Co. for five years after earning his J.D. and MBA from the University of Chicago. That experience in private industry informs his scholarship and teaching today.
"I have endless stories to draw upon in the classroom," he said. "Some of the people I have worked with enjoy great success, while others clog up our headlines with horrible stories of insider trading, greed, and other legal troubles. So I have many illustrations of what to do and what not to."
Geis began his career in the legal academy at the University of Alabama, where he received several teaching awards and was selected by the student body as the outstanding faculty member in 2007. He joined the Virginia faculty in 2008 after visiting during the 2007-08 school year, and since then also has served as the faculty adviser for the J.D.-MBA dual-degree program.
Geis teaches courses in contracts, corporations, agency and partnership, and corporate finance. In addition to having his work published in numerous law journals, Geis wrote the book "Digital Deals: Strategies for Selecting and Structuring Partnerships." He has been a visiting professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India, a program connected to Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
What inspired you to be a lawyer?
Unlike many law professors, no one in my family has ever trained as a lawyer. I worked with a litigation consulting firm for two years after college and was impressed by the attorneys I met. I also thought that law school would help me place some structure on the world around me.
After law school, you worked as a business consultant before turning to teaching law. Why did you change your career trajectory?
I enrolled in a joint J.D.-MBA degree program because I felt that the intersection of law and business raised important and fascinating issues (though I could not have predicted how significant this area would eventually become). One of the nice things about this joint degree was the fact that I had three summers to try different jobs. I worked with some terrific law firms, but, to be honest, I just had a fabulous summer experience at McKinsey & Co. I liked the people, the projects and the general culture of the firm. So I took the job.
Eventually I decided to search for a faculty position; both my parents and all of my siblings have been teachers, so I guess it runs in the blood. I thought that working at a law school would be ideal because the research projects matter and law students take their classes seriously.
How does your experience in private industry inform your work as a professor today?
I have learned that overinvesting in a communication plan is worthwhile. Even the best ideas will fall flat if you don’t put serious effort into the right way to articulate your thoughts and build support. Having worked as a consultant also helps with my research because I often view legal problems through the lens of a business decision-maker. This can sometimes provide new perspective on an academic topic.
What are your current research interests?
My research focuses on both contract law and corporate law. Recently I have been exploring the topic of shareholder litigation, which presents some very tricky problems for corporate governance.Corporations (or really the people who run them) can do some very bad things, and the promise of a bold shareholder rising up as a final bulwark against selfish insider behavior is quite attractive. But some firms are run very well, of course, and the shareholder litigation antidote comes with its own toxins. The real power players are often self-appointed lawyers who do not own shares in the company, and these lawyers may not always look out for the collective interests of shareholders. Moreover, the challenge of understanding the net effect of shareholder litigation is compounded by the many different rules, contexts and forms that these cases can take.
What is your favorite subject to teach and why?
I have a soft spot in my heart for contract law. I teach this class every year and find most of the cases hilarious. Where else can you debate hairy hands, pregnant cows or two ships named Peerless? Contract law also raises some profound legal problems and governs an enormous band of activity. Finally, first-year students often walk into the classroom dreading this topic, and it is fun to get them excited about something that they did not expect to enjoy.
The intersection of law and business has grown more popular as an academic field, in part in recent years due to the financial industry’s near-collapse in 2008. How do you see law school curriculums changing in response to the crisis?
There is a continuing need to help law students gain fluency in business topics like accounting, finance and strategy. At the same time, the laws that govern corporate activity continue to grow more complex, and this will force law schools to rethink the way that they teach core classes like corporations and securities regulation. I also think that law schools need to place more emphasis on forward-looking decision-making — such as how to advise clients under conditions of uncertainty.
What course does Virginia Law offer now that you wish you had taken when you were a law student?
There are so many. We have great intensive short courses on M&A litigation and the financial meltdown that are close to my area of interest. I did not get involved with a clinic in law school and would have loved the chance to work with clients. And the chance to meet at a professor’s home on five Sundays for a Seminar in Ethical Values is too good to pass up.