While the substantive portions of law school classes are very important, a student can gain only a limited understanding of the practice of an area of law in a classroom. UC Law has therefore created Practice Ones in order to give students an opportunity to experience the ways in which the knowledge they gain in the classroom is actually applied in the workplace. The adjunct professors teaching the Practice Ones work closely with the professors of the substantive portions of the course, ensuring that the knowledge students gain from the Practice One correlates with what they have been learning in the classroom setting. The Corporations Practice One in particular is aimed at giving students a taste of the various issues a corporation transaction lawyer deals with on a daily basis.
The Corporations Practice One is currently in its second year. It was first taught in the fall of 2008 by Barbara Wagner, Vice President, Associate General Counsel and Assistant Secretary of Chiquita Brands, International, Inc. Although Wagner’s professional obligations made her unable to continue, her great start and valuable contributions helped continue and expand the Practice One effort.
This past fall, Professor Black’s Corporations class was supplemented by a Practice One taught by adjunct Professor Ed Steiner, along with Julie Muething (Class of 2008) and Mike Moeddel(Class of 2002), all of whom work in the Business Representation and Transactions Practice Group at Keating Muething & Klekamp PLL (KMK).
The students in the Practice One were able to experience practical legal issues that transactional attorneys face, primarily because each assignment was based on a situation that one of the three attorneys had experienced with a client. “By having three teachers at various stages of their careers,” said Muething, “we hoped to give students a better idea of a transactional lawyer’s career – from a junior associate to a junior partner to a more experienced partner.”
Professor Aaron, who has been instrumental in creating Practice One experiences for students, stated that the general hope for Practice Ones is that students can learn the things they may have to do during their first few years out of law school. One of the goals of the Corporations Practice One in particular was to give students a better understanding of how the body of law governing business associations affects how businesses structure their operations and grow their businesses. Students had the chance to cultivate that understanding by putting to practice what they learned in the substantive portion of the class with Professor Black.
“One of the benefits of Practice Ones,” said Professor Aaron, “is that you gain a sense of how things play out in the actual practice of law, regardless of the practice area.” The skills learned in the practice of one area of the law can carry over into the practice of many other areas of law, because they are rarely mutually exclusive. Moeddel expanded on the idea of the applicability of corporate law in particular. “Whether students plan to be plaintiff attorneys, divorce lawyers, or tax attorneys, an understanding of corporate law in practice is helpful to preparing their cases or advising their clients. Legal issues related to business entities are faced by every attorney, regardless of their area of specialty, on a regular basis,” he said.
The Corporations Practice One was, according to Professor Aaron, a success. Student response to the course indicated that, although the students were expected to complete a lot of work, the professors were very good about giving feedback and suggestions for improvement based on the students’ work. “The Practice Ones are designed to meet student interest,” said Professor Aaron, “so we always want to hear students’ comments, suggestions, and other feedback. What we’ve heard about the Corporations Practice One so far is that it was a positive experience, and was a success in the way both the students and faculty had hoped it would be.”
Although the focus of this article is on the corporate law practice one, in keeping with the theme of this month’s Updates@UC Law issue, it is important to recognize the outstanding work that other professors and adjuncts have done to create successful Practice Ones in other practice areas. Adjunct Professor Ann Navaro teaches an Environmental Law Practice One. Introduction to Intellectual Property is another popular Practice One, which is taught by Adjunct Professors Eric Robbins and Clay Kuhnell. Adjunct Professor Felix Chang taught a Practice One in the area of International Business Transactions in the Spring of 2009. Three Practice Ones are also being taught this Spring 2010 semester: Ann Flottman is teaching the Family Law Practice One; William Russo is teaching a Tax Practice One; and Orly Rumberg is teaching a Practice One in Health Law. Each of these has been a success, and as faculty members continue to reach out and recruit experienced practitioners in the field in which they teach, the College of Law can hopefully continue to add additionally Practice Ones to its curriculum.
Advice for Law Students
The current economic climate has affected the job market for corporate lawyers as it has for many areas of the law. The Practice One professors were therefore asked about their advice for students looking to practice corporate law.
Even though the job market is tight, work experience is still an important quality in a job applicant. “Although law firms’ and corporations’ recruiting of new lawyers is likely to remain stagnant,” Moeddel said, “municipal, state and federal governments may continue to hire as they have in the past. A position with a governmental agency-such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Ohio Division of Securities, etc.-can provide a great background and expertise for practicing with a corporation or law firm, if that is a role into which you want to eventually transition.”
In addition to that kind of work experience, there are certain characteristics that may benefit students seeking to practice corporate law. A practical understanding of how businesses operate, including an understanding of business strategies, financial statements, and other important aspects of businesses, can help lawyers stand out among job applicants. When asked what made him personally successful, Moeddel said, “I have always enjoyed learning new things. This desire has helped me become more familiar with my clients’ businesses, and has helped me understand their problems and find solutions.”
Moeddel also emphasized that practicing law is more than just learning case law and being aware of certain statutes. It is important to understand how to go beyond what you learn in a classroom, therefore, and know how to work with existing law to help your clients achieve their goals. “You need to understand, based on the statutes and cases, how to structure a business or transaction in a manner that achieves the business objectives of your client, or, for those practicing as litigators, how to advocate for your client’s position.”
Finally, there are some general considerations that corporate attorneys should keep in mind. Moeddel emphasized, “As corporation transactions have slowed and businesses have gone out of business, the issues faced by corporate lawyers and their clients have changed in the last few years. Lawyers need to adapt to the changing business climate and learn that, although the law is somewhat static, the business environment is not. It affects your client’s position, negotiating leverage, and risk. Therefore, you need to consider how each of those considerations changes your legal considerations.”
Background on the Professors
Although originally from Cincinnati, Muething attended the University of Michigan, where she majored in political science. After graduating, she participated in Teach for America for three years, teaching first grade at F.L. Stanton Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia. She then returned to Cincinnati to attend UC Law. Muething says she chose UC for law school because her brother had a very positive experience at UC Law, and also because she wanted to move back to Cincinnati. Muething worked at KMK during both of her summers in law school, and has worked there since graduating in 2008.
Muething participated in the teaching of the Practice One despite having graduated less than two years ago. “When Ed Steiner first approached me about teaching the Corporations Practice One with him, I wondered what someone with my limited experience could bring to the class,” she said. “However, it soon became clear that our goal with respect to the Practice One was to have various viewpoints and show students not only what they would be doing at various stages of their career but also to give them a sense of the dynamic between attorneys in a corporate practice. Although I may have only had a year and a half of experience, I was able to give the students a better understanding of what their first couple of years of practice would be like, the type of work that they would be doing, and how to best prepare to be a young associate at a law firm.”
Like Muething, Mike Moeddel was born and raised in Cincinnati. He and his wife, Melissa Arnzen Moeddel, also of UC Law’s Class of 2002, have one daughter, Maya, who is fourteen months old, and a second child on the way, due in April. Moeddel majored in English at the Ohio State University before coming straight to UC Law. When asked why he returned to Cincinnati for law school, he said, “I knew they had a great corporate law program, and I was looking forward to coming home to learn and practice law.” He also worked at KMK both summers during law school, and has been there since he graduated in 2002.