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Posted Sept. 6, 2012
Faculty Q&A

Morley Named New Director of Law & Business Program

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Professor John Morley is the new director of the University of Virginia School of Law's Law & Business Program.

University of Virginia law professor John Morley, an expert in mutual fund regulation, trusts and estates, and corporate governance, has been named director of the Law School's Law & Business Program.

Contact: Brian McNeill

The Law & Business Program, which integrates business and legal analysis in the law school classroom, is designed to teach students the skills needed to understand and better serve future business clients. Through the program, business school faculty teach the basics of accounting and finance to law students, who can then hone their skills through enhanced versions of core business law courses. Short courses taught by practicing lawyers, such as senior counsel and executive officers, also allow students to review real-world transactional documents and strategic decisions.

The program's previous director, Professor George Geis, was recently appointed vice dean of the Law School.

Morley recently discussed his new role and his vision for the program's future.

What are some of your goals for the Law & Business Program?

The first goal will be to continue the strong tradition Virginia already built. Virginia has a long history of strength in business law and economics, and I think many of our students come to Virginia for that reason. Another goal will be to try to increase interaction with our alumni. We have many alumni in both business and law who could be enthusiastic and capable contributors to our program.

Why is it useful for future lawyers interested in working in the corporate world or as a transactional lawyer to learn skills like accounting?

If I had been through UVA's Law & Business Program as a student, I might have avoided many mistakes in my first year of law practice. A lot of legal issues turn on accounting concepts. Securities regulation, for example, sometimes uses terms like "book value" that refer to accounting concepts. Understanding finance and accounting also often helps transactional lawyers understand particular details of transaction execution. Lawyers are often called upon, for example, to negotiate contracts that use accounting terminology and financial statements.

What value do you think the program brings to law students who participate in it?

The formal elements of the program, such as the accounting and corporate finance class and the specialized short courses taught by alumni, give students a good knowledge of business principles and a familiarity with a few specialized areas of practice. The informal elements of the program, such as the Virginia Law & Business Society, give students a way to learn about careers and about the broader aspects of business. Students also get a kind of branding benefit. Employers know and like the Law & Business Program, and participation in the program helps students to demonstrate an interest in business to employers.

How has the curriculum changed following the financial crisis? How do you see it evolving in the future?

The financial crisis has dramatically changed the curriculum in classes on banking regulation and securities regulation. These classes now have to cover huge new bodies of regulation. We have also been lucky to have alumni teaching several short courses that focus on particular aspects of the crisis. I think our curriculum will continue to revolve around the core topics of corporations, securities regulation and bankruptcy. But I suspect that more students and faculty will find an interest in financial institutions than before.

You're an expert in mutual fund regulation and securities regulation. Many students in your classes might be confronting complex subject matter on a topic that is new to them. How do you make it interesting?

In my scholarship I have tried to show that investment funds are simply particular manifestations of much broader truths about human organizations. I try to approach classroom topics similarly. When we study shareholder voting, for example, I start by talking about the collective action problems that undermine incentives to vote. I point out how these problems are similar to the problems that prevent roommates from keeping their shared kitchens and bathrooms clean: When several people share a resource but no one internalizes all of the benefit of taking care of it, it tends to be neglected.

Why did you choose to focus on corporate law? What makes it interesting to you?

I like the combination of practical utility and scientific rigor available in the study of corporate law. I also liked the idea that a practicing corporate lawyer can facilitate transactions in which everybody is better off and everybody is happy.

What advice would you give a law student considering focusing on business law?

Students should understand that they have much to learn when they leave law school. Here at UVA, we simply cannot teach all of the details required for particular specialized areas of transactional practice. But students should also remember that the foundational reasoning skills and intuitive understanding that they gain here will allow them eventually to master any type of transaction or practice.


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