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Get to Know: Mihailis Diamantis

Mihailis E. Diamantis
Associate Professor of Law

Joined Iowa Law: July 2016

Hometown: I'm not an adoptive Iowan!

Alma Mater:
Ph.D., Philosophy, NYU
J.D., Yale Law School
A.B., Philosophy, Math, and English, summa cum laude, Amherst College

What did you do before joining Iowa Law? Prior to joining the faculty at Iowa, I was an instructor and researcher at Columbia Law School. I also clerked for Judge Alex Kozinski on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and worked on white collar investigations as an attorney at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

What courses do you teach? I teach Corporate Crimes and Criminal law each year.  I also teach a Philosophy of Law seminar on a rotating topic.  So far, it's focused on the implications of the philosophy of language for statutory interpretation and on experimental jurisprudence.

What does your scholarship entail? I write primarily about corporate crime and criminal theory. I think our understanding of the role of natural people and corporate "people" in the law should inform each other.  Reflecting on how we treat natural people can inspire new solutions for how we treat corporations, and vice versa.

Can you provide an example of something you’re working on right now? One thing I’m interested in is how different methods of analysis can inform corporate criminal law. A lot of people come at it from a law and economics angle. I don’t have an economics background, but I have a philosophy background and I think there is a lot of work philosophy can do, not only in pointing out tensions, but open up new conceptual spaces and places to look for solutions.

Consider corporate punishment... Not many people think we do it right. One of the main complaints is that we haven’t yet figured out what system of punishment we could apply to corporations that would incentivize prosecutors to bring cases against large corporations. Because of the way corporate criminal law works now, a lot of prosecutors end up reaching out-of-court agreements with corporate suspects called deferred or non-prosecution agreements. Under these, the DOJ agrees not to press the case in exchange for the corporation paying a fine and meeting other negotiated terms.

This is indicative of a broken system. I think that this problem is a product of the theories of punishment we use most in corporate criminal law--deterrence theory. There is another approach to punishment called retribution theory that has to do with giving criminals their just deserts. That theory does not seem to apply to corporations.

The theory I’m working on is virtue ethics, which focuses on reform and education rather than punishment for its own sake or deterrent incentives. I think a shift to virtue ethical punishment could — if structured in the right way —provide a means for diffusing a lot of the really negative consequences that currently follow on corporate prosecutions and give prosecutors corporations more incentives to take cases to trial.

How did you decide to join the legal profession? My parents decided I would join the legal profession. I decided I wanted to go into legal academics when — it was fortuitous — I went to a law firm to do international arbitration and I got stuck (as I thought of it at the time) doing white collar investigations. The day to day was pretty routine, but in the course of that I found really interesting conceptual problems in white collar crime and corporate crime. I saw a space there for someone like me, with a philosophy background, to contribute something to the discussion.

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education setting? I like the social aspects of it. I have great colleagues and students. People walk by, pop their head in the door, and we have great conversations. Sometimes it’s about legal stuff, sometimes it’s about a paper I’m working on, and sometimes it’s just about the weekend. But it’s always an engaging discussion.

What do you like most about Iowa Law so far? I really feel like I can go my own direction. I have found nothing but support and encouragement from faculty who are willing to engage my research interests, whatever they may be. That is true intellectual freedom. One of the unique things about Iowa as a law school is the emphasis on research opportunities, professional development for faculty, and encouragement to conduct cross-disciplinary research.

What’s your favorite book, or what are you reading right now? Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky.

Name a few of your favorite things:

  • Ska (music genre)
  • East and Southeast Asian food
  • Animated film
  • Camping
Mihailis Diamantis