New seminar focuses on skill-building through classic research in corporate law

Leslie Ridgeway • January 31, 2022
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Innovative seminar features presentations by scholars and practitioners, and is co-taught by Professors Bob Rasmussen, Michael Simkovic and D. Daniel Sokol

 Professor Bob Rasmussen

A new seminar created by three USC law professors takes a reflective approach to building strategic skills, relating modern corporate governance innovations to iconic research by leading scholars of corporate law.

The Corporate and Commercial Law Seminar is co-taught by Professors Bob Rasmussen, Michael Simkovic and D. Daniel Sokol. The seminar features an impressive lineup of established and emerging corporate law scholars including Mark Roe of Harvard University, Emilie Aguirre of Duke University, Douglas Baird of University of Chicago, Margaret Blair of Vanderbilt University, and Robert Jackson of New York University, former commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Rasmussen, Simkovic and Sokol came up with the seminar while discussing a list of classic works in corporate and commercial law that they consider must-reads for every student or practitioner.

“It’s hard to appreciate that the consensus view could change again without looking back historically and seeing how these ideas changed in previous decades,” says Simkovic. “There are a lot of echoes and similarities in our time.”

For example, the ESG movement (environmental, social and governance investing), which focuses on the role of companies in improving society, is not a recently-devised concept, says Rasmussen.

Professor Michael Simkovic

“By looking at the classics, we see people have been wrestling with these ideas for decades,” he says. “And these are not just academic debates. One student said while she was a summer associate, she was asked to draft corporate governance documents that included ESG terms. We were able to show her the history behind these things. It’s not just a policy matter but a matter of practice.”

The faculty believe the seminar’s foundational approach is essential for young lawyers not just in their daily practice but especially as they grow in their careers and assume roles where they can influence important business decisions.

“The advantage of a seminar is that you can think deeper thoughts, not just about the day-to-day of being a lawyer – but as you reach the partner level or general counsel level, you’re thinking these strategic thoughts all the time,” says Sokol. “We are giving them the tools to understand these issues, to have an analytical framework and address the potential risks for a client or business.”

The seminar will expose students not only to established works but works in progress and presentations from practitioners. In addition to interacting with guest speakers, students will draft reaction papers to scholarly arguments about the structure of corporate governance and discuss the different players within that structure. Speakers will appear both in person and virtually.

 Professor D. Daniel Sokol

With a wealth of talented corporate law scholars who have shaped the field, or will continue to impact the field for years to come, the faculty hope to offer the seminar over several years, highlighting the philosophical questions and moral thinking that guides business law. They also hope to spark the same excitement for business law that these scholarly articles and academicians inspire in themselves.

“I believe (late actor) Christopher Lee read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ every year for 50 years, and each time he read it he’d see something new,” says Sokol. “I’ve read many of these articles at least 10 times, and every time I find additional nuggets. There’s something beautiful about rereading older texts and finding something new each time.”

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