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Get to Know: Joe Yockey

Joe Yockey
Professor and Michael and Brenda Sandler Faculty Fellow in Corporate Law

Hometown: Lawrence, Kansas

Joined Iowa Law: Fall 2010

Alma Mater:
BA, University of Kansas
JD, University of Illinois College of Law

What did you do before joining Iowa Law? Immediately before coming to Iowa, I taught as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, my alma mater. Prior to that I was a corporate litigator at Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago.

Describe your role at the university. I teach and do research. Lately, I’ve also been doing more university service. I was recently elected to serve as the Vice President and President-Elect of the Faculty Senate. This role allows me to work with faculty from different colleges and get to know the university in greater depth. Iowa’s a fascinating place, and I find that the camaraderie and spirit of collaboration among my fellow Faculty Senate Officers is greatly rewarding. 

Courses: Business Associations, Securities Regulation, Private Companies, and a seminar on Compliance, Ethics, and Risk Management.

What does your scholarship entail? My focus is on law’s ability to influence the ways in which private organizations affect society. Lately this interest has led me to focus on social enterprises. Social enterprises are for-profit businesses that advance a specific social mission. I like to think of them as firms that make money to solve social problems rather than ones that solve social problems to make money. For example, one particularly interesting social enterprise is a firm that works to alleviate the sanitation crisis in Africa by franchising affordable, self-cleaning public toilets. Others focus on hiring hard-to-employ people or designing products for the clean-energy sector.

I recently published an edited volume on this topic with Ben Means, who is on faculty at the University of South Carolina School of Law. The book collects dozens of essays from academics and practitioners that explore the state of the social enterprise movement. It is available now from Cambridge University Press.

My next research project explores the ways that fiduciary duties influence trust, communication, and collective decision-making within companies.

How did you decide to join the legal profession? It’s probably more accurate to say that the legal profession picked me. I was an English and art history major in college, and for a long time I didn’t know what I was going to do after graduation. But I knew I liked to write, and I enjoyed taking critical looks at art and literature. Then, I spent my junior year abroad studying in England. I shared a house with several British law students. As I listened to them describe what they were working on, I began to realize that law school might be something up my alley. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say this now, but looking back, I don’t think I fully understood what I was getting myself into. Fortunately, though, I took to law school like nothing else—it felt like my natural habitat. There were certainly plenty of anxious, stressful moments, but I loved almost every minute of it. It helped that I had several amazing professors.

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education/law school setting? I enjoy the freedom to explore the problems and issues that are of interest to me, my students, and the community. And teaching is incredibly fun. I’m fortunate that I get to use creativity in my job. I’m constantly trying to find new ways to keep my students engaged and excited. Lately that means spending more time on developing simulations and other immersive exercises.

I also love living in Iowa City and experiencing the rhythm of the academic year. It reminds me of growing up in Lawrence, another Midwest college town. About a perfect day for me is browsing in Prairie Lights, reading in a coffee shop, and stopping off at Pullman or Big Grove for a beer with friends.

What makes you passionate about your work? The students. My happiest moments are when I see students successfully work through a tough problem or gain a new understanding of a topic. Hearing students tell me that they’ve found a job is also very satisfying, especially when it is something that they want to be doing, where they want to be doing it. I’ve also made several life-long friends among my colleagues on the faculty.

If you could spend a day with anyone, from any era, who would it be and why? I love religious art and architecture, so, if this counts, I would spend a busy day in Renaissance Italy getting personal tours led by Titian, Botticelli, Bellini, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael.

What’s your favorite book? My favorite book is “The Sun also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway. When studying abroad in college, I went on backpacking trip through Europe with a close friend from high school. I found the book early on our trip at an English bookstore in Prague. I read it in one sitting. The story revolves around a group of young Americans living as expats in Paris and Spain. It was the perfect book for that stage of my life, and it hasn’t lost any of its emotional impact on me. Whenever I’m feeling down, I read the first few pages and instantly feel better. Some of my other favorites are “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles, “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro, “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis, “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, and “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Thomas Merton.

Name five of your favorite movies.

  • Drive
  • The Godfather
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Annie Hall
  • The Royal Tenenbaums

Is there anything else you want alums to know about you? Just that I’m thankful for our alumni and for all the support they give to Iowa Law. I love talking with them at football tailgates and hearing about their experiences at the law school and in practice. They feel like my second law school family. (And for any alums in the Chicago area, please know that I’m available on short notice to join you at Wrigley Field.)

Joe Yockey