Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why Do We Teach Commercial Law?

Among other courses, my new law school home, St. Thomas University in Miami, will have me begin teaching commercial law courses in the spring. St. Thomas has not had a commercial law "die-hard" as regular faculty, but several faculty have taught Sales, Secured Transactions and Commercial Paper from time to time in addition to other courses (for a recent study of course offerings in commercial law, see Mark Roark's Commercial Law Course Survey). Without the dedication of a commercial law faculty member, the course descriptions were not surprisingly out of date.

So, today, I will be off to a curriculum committee meeting to discuss revised course descriptions for the commercial law offerings. This process brings to mind not only Mark's survey of what is being taught, but also Larry Garvin's The Strange Death of Academic Commercial Law, where Larry advocates the rescuing of academic commercial law lest it fall into a void of nothingness crowded out by other new seminars and other nouveau studies. Florida just added articles 3 and 9 to its bar exam (See Florida Bar News), giving commercial law more footing at my law school and more draw to students generally. I hesitate to advocate that we teach a variety of commercial law courses merely because it is examined at bar time. Yet, surely the bar examiners also must believe there is something important here as well.

It is well recognized that so long as we have commerce, there is a need for commercial law. Bar exam or not. We have an obligation to prepare our students for the commercial transactions and disputes that arise naturally in our world of business. Law schools are in "partnership" with the community of judges, businesses, legislatures and communities that expect attorneys who will continue to improve the law and promote new ideas. While there is a temptation in states such as Florida that now test commercial law on the bar exam to teach only what is required on the bar, or for schools in states like Pennsylvania which dropped much of commercial law from its bar exam to not teach it at all, we should resist this urge. There is a richness to the study that goes beyond bar requirements, and is a service to students and community alike.

For my part, I will make my case that the course descriptions here at St. Thomas should go beyond what is required for the Florida bar exam. One of my proposed changes is to rename "Commercial Paper" "Payment Systems," reflecting a course that would go beyond the bar exam's UCC Article 3 to include the multiple ways in which we pay for things in commerce. An intelligent study should include checks, credit cards, debit cards, letters of credit, wire transfers and electronic payment devices, as well as promissory notes and guaranties. Thankfully, I expect the faculty here believes that while we need to prepare students to take a bar exam, our obligation goes deeper than that.

Once I get the course descriptions in order, my next job will be to convince the students that the study is important. I hope to teach Payment Systems here at St. Thomas this Spring. On that score, the bar exam looming before them will help. Once in class, though, I hope they see the richness of the study that affects their own every day lives each time they write a check, pull a card out of their wallet or obtain a student loan. The client needs become more clear to them once they appreciate the importance to ordinary transactions.

So, why do we teach commercial law? The answer is simple. Our students need it personally and professionally. And, the wider community needs them to know it.

- JSM

1 comment:

John said...

Commercial law is important since we're dealing with a lot of agreements in businesses and everything related to that. I remember the time when me and my friends got business loans. We consulted a lawyer who knows about commercial law to see if there are any flaws in the agreement. Well, we could have chosen the best small business loans ourselves, but professional help is a lot better, and safer.