We asked Eric A. Chiappinelli, Professor of Law at Texas Tech University, what has inspired and motivated him throughout his career. This author spotlight gives a glimpse into his passions and what brought him to where he is today.
What or who motivated you to study law?
[EAC] I always wanted to be a lawyer when I was growing up, though I had no real idea what it was lawyers did. By college I knew much more about what lawyers did and thought law had a fascinating mix of being intellectually interesting with the potential for improving society.
Did you have a favorite professor in law school? If so, who was the person and what made them stand out?
[EAC] William F. Young was by far my favorite law professor. He loved working with students and was absolutely superb in the classroom. He was always very kind and patient as he worked students through the cases. But he always insisted on precision from the students. And he always wanted to know what the students thought of the case and the rule. I had first year Contracts with him and then took three other advanced courses. To this day, I hear his voice when I think of a Contracts issue. The Contracts casebook we used, which he co-authored, is the only law school book I kept.
What law school course did you enjoy the most?
[EAC] I liked most of my courses, but I loved the three legal history courses I took from Joseph H. Smith. By the time I was in law school I was pretty sure I wanted to be a law professor and I found myself particularly drawn to his courses because they had such an academic feel to them. They were really like graduate school seminars. The doctrinal courses I liked the most were Contracts, Civil Procedure with Harold Korn, and Conflict of Laws with Willis L.M. Reese.
What are your primary areas of writing and teaching? What fascinates you about these areas of law?
[EAC] I teach Business Entities and related courses such as Securities Regulation and Mergers & Acquisitions. I also teach Contracts. I’ve mostly written on Corporate law and on Legal Education. I like Corporate law because it involves people working together to accomplish something productive. It is captivating because it is forward-looking and the parties are cooperative but still at arm’s length. In litigation, the focus is mostly looking backward and the attitude is adversarial. I like thinking about and writing about Legal Education because it’s the industry I’ve worked in for most of my career.
Do (or did) you have a mentor, or someone that has inspired or encouraged you in your writing or teaching?
[EAC] Three people have been major influences on my teaching and I am incredibly thankful to each of them. I’ve mentioned William F. Young in law school. In college I came under the influence of Neal Brogden, who was the most gifted teacher I ever had. He worked one-on-one with every student in every class. I have a picture of Neal above my desk. Finally, my long-time colleague Bill Oltman was a mentor to me in many ways but most especially when I was a new law professor learning how to teach. Bill was generous with his time and his advice. He is the person who most directly taught me how to teach.
What motivated you to write a casebook?
[EAC] I wanted to see a Business Entities casebook that had newer cases. All the existing casebooks then (early 2000s) seemed to use the same cases, many of which were 20 or 30 years old. I knew that students were finding business law to be increasingly difficult to learn and I thought a big part of the problem was that they were being taught through old cases.
I also wanted to see a casebook by a sole author, so that the author’s tone, style, and voice would run through the whole book. I thought that would make the text more engaging and accessible for students. So, I put together a casebook by myself that used cases that were less than 20 years old. In every new edition I drop the cases over 20 years old. In the most recent revision (2018) I replaced nearly two dozen older cases with new ones.
What has been the most influential or pivotal moment in your career?
[EAC] The day I got an offer of a teaching job at what is now Seattle University School of Law. I had never taught before, but I always thought I would like teaching and would enjoy academia. I got the offer in late March, moved from San Francisco to Seattle over the summer, began teaching in August, and never looked back.
What changes in legal education excite you?
[EAC] I am excited by the different ways law schools are thinking hard about their goals in reaction to the contraction in class size and the reduction in resources over the last 10 years. Almost every law school has had to be much more intentional in choosing what to offer, how to offer it, and how to support its goals. The schools that have engaged faculties and strategic-thinking deans have found that they can get the resources to attract dedicated, diverse, and accomplished students. In another 10 years you will see a distinct divide between schools that are intentional and those that are just reacting to circumstances.
What advice do you have for today’s law students?
[EAC] First, recognize that your clients’ well-being, freedom, and (sometimes) lives depend on your judgement and knowledge, so you have an obligation to learn as much as you can in each course. It’s not like undergraduate where you’re only shortchanging yourself if you slack off in a course you don’t like.
Second, use the law school experience to develop and hone your judgement about legal issues. Being a lawyer is not just learning a thousand rules (although you’ll learn at least a thousand rules!). Being a lawyer is much more about judgement and your ability to predict outcomes than about knowing “things.” As your career progresses, your judgement will be much more important than your ability to recall specific rules.
Finally, and this is especially true for first year students, don’t get behind in the reading. Law school classes tend to build on the material in prior classes and professors seldom back up to synthesize what’s come before. If you fall behind in the reading you won’t see all the links, you’ll be lost in class, and it’s very hard to get back up to speed.
How do you hope to be remembered by your students or law school?
[EAC] I hope my students remember me as someone who knew how to help them think about the world and as someone who chose to be kind.
What are your interests outside of law?
[EAC] I like to give cocktail parties and Champagne dinners for my friends. I also like to travel to places that have vibrant culture and good shopping.
Eric A. Chiappinelli is a Professor of Law at Texas Tech University and is the author of Cases and Materials on Business Entities, Fourth Edition.