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History and Traditions

Joel Seligman

Joel Seligman taught at the University of Michigan Law School, 1987-1995.  Joel Seligman, from website

Joel Seligman - whose specialty is corporate and securities law - is the first to admit that he doesn't fit everyone's image of a corporate lawyer.

"The popular impression is of a fairly materialistic, very specialized - and very narrow - practitioner," he says. "And that's very far from my world."

In fact, Seligman joined forces with Ralph Nader upon graduating from Harvard Law School in 1974. His three-year association with the Corporate Accountability Research Group resulted in two books: Taming the Giant Corporation, which argued for federal, not state, chartering of large corporations; and The High Citadel: The Influence of Harvard Law School. The latter "had the distinction of being the only recent book about Harvard Law School not to be a bestseller," notes Seligman.

Seligman is fascinated by corporate law - a field which he says is often stigmatized as "dry." In the past 15 years, he says, it has enjoyed a kind of renaissance.

Securities regulation is Seligman's specialty, and he is currently working with Louis Loss to revise Loss's classic Securities Regulation. The completed work is currently expected to be ten volumes long. Despite the formidable nature of the project, Seligman is buoyed by his extensive knowledge of SEC history (he wrote The Transformation of Wall Street: A History of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Modern Corporate Finance) and by his unchecked enthusiasm for the SEC. "You have to appreciate that the SEC was FDR's favorite agency," he says.

Early in his career, Seligman co-authored Taming the Giant Corporation with Ralph Nader and Mark Green. While the book received considerable attention, Seligman says that "in terms of leading to the adoption of a federal corporate law, it didn't succeed."

In his closeup of Harvard Law School, The High Citadel, Seligman says, "I found myself in the odd position of having been hired by Ralph Nader who wanted a critical book, and yet finding the issues of legal education I was studying much more complicated than I thought when I started out.'' Nader held the view that elite schools like Harvard steered graduates into corporate law careers by the very makeup of their curriculum.  Seligman concluded, among other things, that the schools had less influence than the job market.

Seligman taught at Northeastern University Law School and at George Washington University's National Law Center before coming to Michigan as a visiting professor last year. He joins the faculty as a tenured full professor this fall. Of the U-M, Seligman says, "This is not a law school where corporate and securities law has been particularly emphasized.  It's a law school which has a rich, humanistic, interdisciplinary tradition, which makes working here particularly stimulating.''

Seligman was one of two faculty members (the other was Professor Douglas Kahn) who received the L. Hart Wright Teaching Award voted by the 1987 graduating class for excellence in teaching. "I really can't explain how I teach," he said. "But I've been teaching for ten years and I feel I have just as much excitement going into a classroom as I did when I began."

He adds, "What's changed is that I've grown from being obsessed with teaching students every last detail about a subject to being much more concerned with the underlying theories of the field. "

Seligman and his wife, Frederike Seligman, a Russian literature specialist with a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the U-M, have two pre-school aged children, Andrea and Peter.

-- From the University of Michigan Law School's Law Quadrangle Notes, V. 32, Iss. 01 (Fall 1987).

Seligman left Michigan in 1995 to become Dean at the University of Arizona.


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