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Get to Know: Mihailis Diamantis

Mihailis E. Diamantis
Associate Professor of Law

Joined Iowa Law: July 2016

Hometown: My Mom won’t let me call New York my hometown. Alabama is my home, but I did become a New Yorker in New York. I lived there for ten years, so I think of myself as a weird hybrid between Alabama and New York. Now I have a new adoptive home in Iowa

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 taught corporate crimes last semester, and I’m teaching criminal law this semester. I don’t yet know what the third course is going to be.

What does your scholarship entail? I write about corporate crime and philosophy. My current legal research addresses tangible problems in corporate criminal law by drawing inspiration from the concept of "person" as used in ethics, epistemology, and cognitive science. My current work in philosophy develops an account of the nature of action that is responsive to the folk practices of responsibility attribution. I have subsidiary interests in privacy law and surveillance.

Can you tell me a little bit more about it, or 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.

One thing I’m looking at right now is that there’s a host of problems around how to punish corporations. Not many people think we do it right, and a lot of people have complaints about how that process works. 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 theory of punishment most commonly referenced in corporate criminal law, which is deterrence theory. There is another approach to punishment called retribution theory that has to do with punishing the individual because they deserve it. That theory does not have any straightforward application 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 altering incentives to steer people away from criminal conduct. I think a shift to virtue ethic 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 which tapped into a lot of the work in ethics and action theory I had been developing in philosophy. 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. 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. It’s also the students I’m interacting with on a daily basis. I have research assistants, and students who have questions about class, and I feel very engaged by all of it.

What do you like most about Iowa Law so far? I really feel like I can go my own direction. I have felt zero restrictions in terms of where I want to take my research and I have found nothing but support and encouragement from faculty who are willing to engage. 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.

You’ve been at the UI and Iowa City for a few months now – tell us about something that surprised you, or something you like about the area. Iowa City has one (and who needs more than one anyway) of everything I could ever want. My experience in Iowa so far has been that there are very interesting things to do and, for the most part, you can show up three minutes before show time and still get a ticket and that’s amazing. I went to New York last weekend I wanted to go for Chinese food in a new place in the neighborhood I used to live in and it was a two-hour wait. It’s extremely liberating not to have that here. It opens up opportunities for me to focus on the things I want to focus on. People don’t want to focus on how to avoid traffic, or how to game the reservation system. In terms of quality of life and freeing up time for doing things that matter to me, it’s been great.

What’s your favorite book, or what are you reading right now & why do you enjoy it? 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