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From Mardi Gras to John Oliver, law profs test ideas via blogs

October 10, 2016

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Professor Sally Richardson’s blogging has made property law accessible by using Mardi Gras to explore issues involving possession, finders law and property valuation.

Photo by Geoff Campbell


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Professor Ann M. Lipton, whose blogging runs the gamut from securities law to movie reviews, also wrote about sessions at Tulane’s Corporate Law Institute.


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Professor Shu-Yi Oei helped launch The Surly Subgroup tax law blog.

By Geoff Campbell

Talk about legal hypotheticals: Professor Sally Brown Richardson used Mardi Gras ladders to discuss possession, King Cake babies to teach finders law, Muses’ shoes to talk about property valuation and 8-year-olds’ sleepovers to explain property law.

She might have been the only person in America to quiver with excitement when the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee turned on the Roman law word “usucapion.”

Richardson, who writes at PropertyProf Blog, is among a core group of Tulane Law professors launching off current events, pop culture and uniquely New Orleans tie-ins to share their scholarly expertise on blogs. They use the forums as an alternative platform to flesh out ideas — and demonstrate a deft ability to bring life and currency to the law, thereby enriching classroom discussions.

“My goals are to provide interesting and informative substance on property law in a relatively easy-to-read format,” Richardson says. “Blogging isn’t writing law review articles or books. I use the blog to get people thinking about an issue rather than provide a rock-solid answer to it.”

In that vein, when comedian John Oliver purchased and forgave $15 million in bad medical debt, Professor Shu-Yi Oei, posted a hot take on the potential tax consequences to the debtors on The Surly Subgroup, a new tax blog that features the work of a number of prominent tax law professors. Oei, the Hoffman F. Fuller Professor of Tax Law, also has written there about tax enforcement against vendors at Jazz Fest, a New Orleans institution. And after a no-parking sign appeared on her street to make way for several days of filming, she weighed the costs and benefits of Louisiana’s film tax credit.

When Facebook announced it would issue a class of nonvoting shares, Professor Ann M. Lipton, who writes weekly at Business Law Prof Blog, quickly analyzed dual class share structures designed to rein in investors’ power. She tackles heavy duty topics but also lighter ones and has fun reviewing movies dealing with her field, including The Big Short, Madoff and Money Monster.

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Seeing a familiar-in-New Orleans sign prompted Professor Shu-Yi Oei to blog about Louisiana’s film tax credit.

Richardson, the inaugural Charles E. Lugenbuhl Professor, says her blogging can provide a useful classroom tool — and a springboard for law review articles. 

“I use the blog to highlight and develop issues I’m interested in exploring more,” she says. “Then I can use a law review article to really dig into an issue.”

A former aide to then-U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, Richardson sometimes blogs about politics, but she also finds fun in weaving property law into everyday life.

Consider her often-hilarious take on chaperoning a Brownie troop camping trip. She taught the girls about, among other things: the tragedy of commons, when troop members gulped handfuls of chips; the right to exclude, when one girl laid on another’s sleeping bag; and adverse possession, when one troop member accused another of taking her roasting stick.

Lipton, an experienced securities litigator, recently was named to the new Michael Fleishman Professorship in Business Law & Entrepreneurship. She says blogging allows her to “bounce thoughts around on a smaller scale” than if she were addressing an issue for a law review article.

“Blogging appeals to the teacher in me, giving me space to explain important, current topics in corporate and securities law to an audience that includes nonexperts,” she says. “There are many business law issues that are incredibly important because they form the background structure of American life. I can provide a service if I can help illuminate even some of those issues to readers who are uninformed about them.”

Other Tulane Law faculty occasionally contribute to blogs, ranging from the mass-audience Huffington Post to more narrowly focused law blogs. Professors Stephen M. Griffin, Amy Gajda, Stacy Seicshnaydre and Keith Werhan have been featured on Constitutional Daily, the blog of the National Constitution Center.

The regular bloggers say the medium’s advantage is its immediacy — but that’s also its biggest drawback.

“I fear I’ll say something that turns out to be incorrect,” Lipton says. “Law review articles take a long time to write, but that means there’s months of research behind them and extensive feedback from other scholars. But blog posts are written quickly, so there’s a lot of room for error.”

The timeliness of blogs can be an asset to spur classroom discussion, however. When the presidential race was still crowded, Richardson used a series of posts on the candidates’ views to engage her students on eminent domain. 

“At the time, there were seven candidates still in the race, and they all had slightly nuanced views, not to mention some campaigns even had commercials highlighting their stance on the topic,” she says. “In that type of instance, the blog is a great classroom tool because it brings to life for the students an issue we study.”

Geoff Campbell is a New Orleans-based writer/editor and a former college journalism instructor.

 

 
   


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