Professor Jessica Erickson teaching

A New Approach to Business Law

April 19, 2021
Faculty and students partner to launch the Richmond Law & Business Forum

With a yet unknown pandemic on the radar, Prof. Jessica Erickson went to lunch with Dean Wendy Perdue in 2019 with a proposal in mind: a new program that would bring together students interested in business law with opportunities for professional development and networking. Pandemic notwithstanding, the Richmond Law & Business Forum just completed a successful inaugural year.

Professor Erickson has been at Richmond Law for nearly 15 years, and during that time, she has mentored hundreds of students interested in business law. She emphasizes that business law is a “big umbrella,” including a variety of topics relevant to businesses such as corporate governance, securities, tax, bankruptcy, and intellectual property. Erickson herself worked at the law firm then called Hunton & Williams in its corporate litigation practice after earning a dual degree from Amherst College and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Today she teaches a variety of courses in the field of corporate and securities law. That background helped inform her concept for the Forum.

Erickson’s initial idea for the program was to connect students with alumni working on topics within the business law arena. Erickson explained that, despite the expansive curriculum used to prepare students as business lawyers, she saw the need for additional networking opportunities. She also wanted to help students better understand the different types of business law careers and what day-to-day life looks like in these careers.

The proposal to the Dean started as a concept that would bring together business lawyers and students in a variety of events. Because Erickson was aware that “pure networking opportunities are limited,” her initial goal was to orchestrate small gatherings with practicing lawyers and law students to encourage meaningful connections. “I imagined our students sitting around a dinner table with business lawyers, learning about their day-to-day practices and how the law operates in practice.”

Given the pandemic, however, Erickson had to rethink that original vision in light of the fact that most co-curricular events at the law school were remote. “So far, we haven’t been able to get students and practicing lawyers around the same table, but we have learned that we can use Zoom to accomplish many of the same goals.” Erickson chose an inaugural student board in Fall 2020, and together, they launched the program in January 2021. The Forum held eight online events throughout the Spring 2021 semester.

While the pandemic delayed the social portion of the program, it also facilitated swiftly arranged event discussions such as one in February on GameStop’s stock market saga. It has also hosted a variety of other events, from small group conversations on different types of business law careers to discussions about the start-up community in the Richmond area, the University of Richmond’s joint JD/MBA program, and the importance of understanding your client and law firm’s market. The most recent event was entitled “Life as an In-House Attorney,” and it was part of a new series that invites Richmond Law alumni to share thoughts about their day-to-day practice. During this event, two alumni – Antoinette Walker, L’06, of Subaru of America, Inc. and Kathleen Amaro, L’11, of Guggenheim Investments – told students about their career paths and provided advice on how law students can prepare for an in-house career.

Erickson said she has been “blown away” by student interest in Forum events. The GameStop event, for example, attracted more than 50 students who were eager to discuss the legal implications of the unprecedented trading in GameStop stock. The networking events were capped at 10 students to allow more conversation between the guests and the students, and registration for each of these smaller events filled within two hours. The student board has been crucial in planning and running these events. Erickson works with a team of two or three students on each event, and they have primary responsibility for communicating with the guests and managing the conversations during the events. Erickson said, “Our student board members have been remarkable in coming up with innovative ways to connect students to the business law community in Richmond and beyond.”

Alumni interested in learning more about the Forum can reach out to Erickson directly or follow the Forum on Facebook. They can also sign up to be part of the Forum’s lawyer network, which connects students with business lawyers willing to speak to students about their careers. Sign-up for the lawyer network is available here.

-By Salua Kamerow, L'22