Max Chao is a full-time continuing lecturer at the University of California Irvine, 2018 and 2021 UCI Lecturer of the Year and winner of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Merage Excellence in Teaching award
Most days, I feel lucky to have the privilege of teaching students. But as many know, teaching Business Law is not particularly easy. In law school, I learned how to survive the Socratic method of teaching, and I learned all about IRAC when analyzing cases or writing memos. But my students are undergrads and MBAs; they are most certainly not Law students. My challenge has always been figuring out how to engage them and make Business Law relevant to them.
I have taught for nearly 20 years at The Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine. I attribute my longevity—and ultimately, success—to teaching Business Law with these strategies which I use in all my classes.
Tip 1: Tell Stories
I bring Business Law alive by telling stories to my students based on my experience as a practicing attorney.
For example, when we discuss how the United States Constitution contains restrictions—such as the 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments—on the content of laws or regulations a government can enact, I reminisce back to my law school days. That’s when I interned at the local city attorney’s office and analyzed the constitutionality of a proposed ordinance regulating—ostensibly, banning—nude juice bars within the city limits (yes, this was a thing back in the 90s).
When we cover the required elements to form a contract, I tell my students of the time when a client carelessly accepted an offer to sell a piece of real estate with incorrect terms. We had to race a counteroffer to the buyer by implementing the first-delivery rule.
When we discuss the importance of business organizations, my students hear about how a colleague and I were able to stick an opposing party with personal liability because they failed to properly incorporate their business.
One of my favorite stories gets brought up when we talk about secured transactions. I tell students of the time a client loaned money to a romantic acquaintance to purchase a car. After the relationship fell apart, the borrower refused to repay the loan. So, I hired a tow company to surreptitiously stake out the borrower to learn her daily patterns because she knew exactly what she was doing by always parking the car in her garage.
These stories help illustrate various principles of Business Law by showing students how what they learn in class applies to real life.
Tip 2: Use Current Events
I integrate current events into every aspect of my Business Law curriculum.
This quarter, we analyzed the constitutionality of our California governor’s various modified shelter-in-place orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also examined whether the State of Hawaii’s requirement that inbound travelers present a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departing for the islands is discriminatory.
We looked at the defamation lawsuits filed by Dominion Voting Systems Corporation against Fox News and other prominent individuals related to statements they made about the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election. And, we analyzed whether statements made by Elon Musk as part of his musings to take Tesla private constituted a violation of securities laws.
By adding current events to my curriculum, I make Business Law relevant to students by showing them how law-related issues constantly crop up in the news.
Tip 3: Involve the Students
Third, I make my students—oftentimes, unknowing—participants in unexpected legal-related scenarios which happen randomly in my classes.
When we study negotiable instruments, and after they learn about the required elements of a valid check, I challenge my students to create their own check for $1. For a bonus point, they have to take it to their bank and get the teller to honor this different, yet wholly valid, check. Because the tellers are expecting standard, pre-printed checks, my students must now describe the elements of a valid check and show how their self-created checks meet all of these requirements. And, to add more fun to this—for me, but not necessarily for the teller—the student with the most creative check wins a special prize.
Hearing client stories or discussing current events is one thing, but actually engaging in these kinds of hands-on experiences shows my students how Business Law will affect nearly every aspect of their lives.
Tip 4: Use MindTap
I utilize the invaluable resources provided by MindTap. Since MindTap has been integrated into our school’s Learning Management System (Canvas), it’s easy for me to post links to news and other articles in MindTap for my students to read and comment on.
MindTap also contains pre- and post-lecture exercises which help illustrate many facets of Business Law. I especially love the “Why Does It Matter to Me” questions. I assign these before the reading to help introduce students to the topic and show why it’s important. The Apply It and Brief Hypotheticals at the end of each chapter in MindTap provide real-world illustrations as to how that concept of law ultimately relates to something they may encounter in their careers and lives. I assign these exercises as low-stakes assignments to help students become more comfortable with the topics. Oftentimes during our weekly discussions, the scenarios presented in these exercises help spur interesting conversations and debate among my students.
Another particularly useful feature of MindTap is the ability to add in outside resources for my curriculum. While the Cengage textbook I use, Essentials of Business Law by Beatty, Samuelson, et al., is very good about updating its cases to ensure its continued relevance, sometimes there are older cases which have relevant facts and stories that make them a fascinating read for my students.
For example, Cole v. Quirk, where a man stuck his hand in the seat pocket of a used car he and his wife purchased and was poked by surgical tweezers which had been left behind by a prior owner. He was unable to engage in relations with his spouse for nearly a year out of fear that he had caught an infectious disease. So, they both sued for emotional distress.
Or, Jeter v. Orkin Exterminating Co., where unscrupulous termite inspectors took advantage of an elderly woman in Alabama. They claimed to have repaired termite damages. They did not—and repeatedly lied to her about the condition of her house over more than 20 years. When she discovered their fraud and breach of contract, she won millions of dollars in punitive damages.
All I need to do is find a nice summary of the case on the internet, and I can easily provide a link in MindTap for my students.
With this generation of students, teaching Business Law is not that easy. But, with each of these strategies I can make Business Law relevant to my students and capture their attention.
 Issue Rule Analysis Conclusion has been seared into my brain forever.
 I concluded the ordinance could pass Constitutional muster because it sought to regulate obscene speech.
 Our counter-offer was hand-delivered about an hour before the Federal Express package containing the signed acceptance was delivered.
 Do you remember about piercing the corporate veil?
 But after less than a week, she blew it when she drove the car to buy groceries at the local supermarket. As soon as she walked into the supermarket, the tow company grabbed the car. My client had a spare key—and spirited it away.
 In truth, nothing is random in any of my classes as I have calculated and planned everything beforehand. I am an attorney after all!
 Many of the long-time tellers at the bank branches around our campus roll their eyes when one of my students comes in with one of their “special” checks because they know what is coming next.
 My more creative students have submitted checks written on Popsicle sticks, plastic cutlery, a two-by-four piece of wood, and a gum wrapper. However, the hands-down winner of the most creative one was a check a student had created on an old sock. I did not ask whether it was a clean sock or not.
 They lost because they could not show they had suffered any actual injury.
Would you like to discuss ways to integrate these tips into your course? Request a Faculty Partner consultation with me.