Students learn the Documents of the Deal: New law class invites alumni back to the classroom

In a course launched this semester by Professor of Law Joseph Morrissey, students are studying more than case law from text books, and alumni are sharing their tools of the trade.

Professor Joseph Morrissey teaches, among other classes, Business Entities, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Corporations, and International Sales & Arbitration at Stetson.

Professor Joseph Morrissey teaches, among other classes, Business Entities, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Corporations, and International Sales & Arbitration at Stetson.

Professor Morrissey’s new course, “Documents of the Deal,” is a business law boot camp designed to provide students with skills training to enter a sophisticated transactional practice.  Students complete negotiating and drafting exercises and learn from top business lawyers who join the class weekly to discuss their areas of expertise. Those experts also present and discuss the complex contracts they use in their day-to-day practice. The topics presented span the life and death of a corporation: from business formation, through lending, mergers & acquisitions, securities transactions, all the way to bankruptcy.

“For several years now nationally there has been an increased discussion about providing law students with more practical training and exposure to the skills of practicing attorneys,” said Professor Morrissey, who teaches, among other classes, Business Entities, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Corporations, and International Sales & Arbitration at Stetson. “The goal of this movement is to get law students ready to successfully practice law when they graduate. Stetson has done this routinely for decades with incredible training in the advocacy area through curricular offerings and extracurricular team-based competitions.  But this skills training has not been as thoroughly developed in our business offerings.  The Documents of the Deal class is designed to provide just that skills training for students interested in business law.”

The class also provides students with an opportunity to network and explore career opportunities, Morrissey explained.  “We have been very lucky to have had a wide range of really successful and dynamic attorneys present to the class. Many have been Stetson alumni. Each of the presenters has been incredibly generous with their time. Not only have they shared their expertise with our students in the class, they each expressly encouraged our students to follow up in personal e-mails with any further questions they have or advice they may seek. Our students in the class have remarked that they are genuinely inspired and encouraged by the successes of these alumni.”

Mark Haranzo JD ’85 practices with Withersworldwide in New York City. He traveled back to his alma mater in Gulfport, Florida, to present on various transactional documents used in estate planning for corporate clients. Haranzo shared that his Trusts and Estates professor at Stetson law school, E. McGruder “Mack” Faris, inspired his interest in estate planning and every area of law that encompasses, from tax to litigation to contracts. “There’s a lot more to life than cases and codes,” said Haranzo, who spends a sizable percentage of his time training young lawyers.

He said that while hitting the law books is important, lawyers need to interact. He was happily surprised to find that Morrissey’s classroom was set up like a corporate board room, with students sitting around a U-shaped table facing each other to improve engagement.

Today, working in Manhattan, Haranzo said that he is surrounded by Columbia and Harvard Law graduates and feels that his Stetson law school degree prepared him to go toe to toe with any of them.

Third-year Stetson Law student Aaron Reichelson said he was impressed that guest lecturers in the class were industry leaders. Many were involved in drafting current legislation or mentioned participated in cases the students read about in class.

“Unlike other courses that demonstrate the history and the evolution of the law from an academic perspective, the subject matter in this course is up-to-the-minute current, coming directly from attorneys who practice it every day,” said Reichelson, who suggested that the course should be considered a mandatory choice for any student wishing to practice corporate law.

Student Giovanni Giarratana said that he plans to work with Burr & Forman in Tampa, likely in commercial litigation.

“I have really enjoyed getting to hear from top business law practitioners in the Tampa area, many of whom are Stetson alums,” said Giarratana.

Michael Marder JD ’77 is managing partner at GreenspoonMarder Law who presented on securitization transactions for the class.

“I was pleased to be given an opportunity to impart real-world financial scenarios to the students and engage in discussions,” said Marder. In his day-to-day practice, Marder said the reality is an absence of routine.

“Each day brings new challenges,” said Marder. “My clients come from all industries and I handle myriad issues. This week it may be a trial over a business dispute, and next week a multi-million dollar financing transaction, with contract reviews, condominium development documents or litigation in between. Big or small, all matters can be broken down to the people involved, and my pleasure is taking care of people.”

Brittany Maxey JD ’07 of Maxey Law in St. Petersburg is an intellectual property attorney who went to law school solely to prepare for a practice in IP. In her own firm, she says she needs to be able to spot potential issues that face her clients in the business world. A course like the Documents of the Deal was not offered when she was in law school.

“This is a very unique course as it is rare that students have the opportunity to see so many of the actual transactional pieces that take place between the life and death of a corporation,” said Maxey, who covered intellectual property in the course.

David M. Doney JD ’91 is managing partner at Akerman LLP in Tampa where he focuses on mergers and acquisitions and capital markets transactions. He said that teaching a topic in the course appealed to him because the course was uniquely designed to teach students business-related topics from a practical and transactional perspective.

“Much of law school is centered around litigation,” said Doney. “Even subjects that are fundamentally transactional, such as business associations and securities regulation, are taught primarily from casebooks.”

Third-year student Lara McGuire is a member of the Moot Court Board and the Stetson Law Review. She said that she signed up for the class because she wants to be a litigator focused in commercial litigation with a working knowledge of the transactional stages that lead to disputes.

“This class has provided me with a significant foundation on a broad range of business law topics, and more importantly, exposure to the actual documents involved in these transactions,” said McGuire. “I no longer fear walking into a firm and being blindsided by documents or concepts that are entirely foreign to me.”

“The practice of law is so closely intertwined with business, and it’s important for all attorneys to have at least a minimal knowledge of those concepts,” said McGuire.

In addition to Documents of the Deal, Stetson offers courses in law and accounting, law practice management, contract drafting, a capstone course for business entities, international business transactions, interviewing and counseling and other courses for students interested in business and the law. Stetson also offers a joint JD/MBA degree.

“It is challenging for a young lawyer,” said Haranzo, who encouraged students to follow work they feel passionate about. “Early on, it’s important to expose lawyers to different opportunities in law, not as an afterthought.”