Business, Legal Experts Share Knowledge During Weekend Course for Law, MBA Students

Professor Laura Rosenbury, Washington University School of Law

Getting students to give up an extended weekend for an additional course is one thing. Convincing more than a half-dozen business executives and legal experts to devote their time to teaching the class might be tougher. Through her recent seminar, Law, Business & Governance, Professor Hillary Sale managed to do both, with an interdisciplinary twist.

Sale, the Walter D. Coles Professor Law and professor of management, recently combined her business and legal connections to the benefit of her MBA and law students. The class specifically brought business decision-makers to campus to discuss how they deal with legal issues and how those issues impact business decisions.

Topics included ways in which fiduciary duties influence the boardroom; the role of plaintiff class actions in business decision-making; the ways in which law shapes how CEOs think about and operate their companies; and how law shapes employer decisions.

“Law students and business students, especially those interested in corporate law and governance, need to have their education grounded in the practical realities of the business world,” Sale says of the impetus for the course. “Who better to learn this from than CEOs, board members, and general counsels?”

Washington University School of Law Speaker

At the end of the long weekend, students gave the course rave reviews. “The seminar gave me a peek into both the business insight and the skills that have enabled these corporate leaders to have such successful careers,” says second-year law student John Gauthier. “In addition, some of my friends were able to speak to the guest lecturers after the presentations, and those sorts of connections can make a great impact on students’ careers.”

For students who are certain of their career paths, the seminar was reaffirming and served as a career appetizer. Andrew Blumberg, JD/MBA '14, is clerking for Delaware Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard, so he found the session devoted to the role of Delaware in corporate governance and decision-making particularly on point.

Washington University School of Law Speaker

“It was great to get the perspective of a plaintiff's lawyer, but maybe even more valuable to listen to a CEO speak about how much the law and lobbying plays into his daily life,” Blumberg says.

“It was also a great opportunity to hear from someone who is an in-house counsel for a major corporation and understand what her day-to-day legal concerns are—because that is a position I could see myself pursuing in the future,” Blumberg continues. “I may very well be interacting with people who work in these positions at various corporations, so it’s important to understand their jobs and their motivations so that I can better provide them with legal services.”

Julie Evans, a PMBA student at Olin, also found the course invaluable. “It helped me understand how pervasive the law is in shaping even the most fundamental business decisions,” she says. “Given my current role in commercial banking, learning about the legal implications affecting boards of directors today was also fascinating and helped me appreciate management incentives and decisions in companies.”

Washington University School of Law Speaker

Even for students whose plans are less certain, the seminar proved useful. Second-year law student Marissa Vitolo says that while she started the semester unsure of what she would like to specialize in, the seminar gave her a reason to narrow her focus.

“This course really did open my eyes to the different ways the legal profession can interact with the corporate environment,” she says. “As a result, I have definitely begun to more seriously consider practicing corporate law. I am even considering applying for the dual degree program to get my MBA in addition to my JD.”

The insiders’ knowledge of the corporate world is available to students because of Sale’s connection to influential leaders in corporations and board rooms and because of her powers of persuasion in bringing them to campus.

“Professor Sale seems to know so many accomplished people in varying areas of the legal and corporate world, so she has a unique ability to bring many amazing perspectives to each lesson,” Vitolo says. “Additionally, Professor Sale’s connections seem to give her an amazing understanding of the practical applications of the rules and laws we study in the classroom.”

Speakers for Law Business and Governance 
Over a four-day weekend, law and MBA students listened to these industry leaders discuss how the law impacts the decision-making process in various aspects of business: 

  • Terry Crews, former chief financial officer at Monsanto and board member at Archer Daniels Midland and Hormel Foods Corporation
  • Nancy Hamilton, deputy general counsel at Monsanto
  • David Kemper, chairman and CEO of Commerce Bancshares, Inc.
  • Darren Robbins, partner at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dows, one of the largest plaintiffs side, class action law firms inthe United States
  • Laura Rosenbury, the John S. Lehmann Research Professor at Washington University School of Law
  • Kim Yates, a labor attorney at Littler Mendelson
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    Kathleen Nelson, Spring 2014