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Get to Know: Sean Sullivan

Sean Sullivan, Associate Professor of Law

At the UI since: 
Summer 2017

Suburbs outside of D.C.

Alma Mater:
George Mason University (BS Economics, MS Statistics)
University of Virginia (PhD Economics, JD)

What did you do before joining Iowa Law? Before law school, I earned graduate degrees in economics and statistics and worked in an experimental economics laboratory. Following law school, I practiced for nearly four years as an antitrust attorney with the Federal Trade Commission. My practice focused on the review and litigation of mergers in technology and commodity-chemical industries.

What courses do you teach? Evidence, Antitrust, and Law & Economics.

What does your scholarship entail? The simple answer is that I do interdisciplinary research. The less simple answer is that my research merges traditional legal analysis with economics and statistics. I am particularly interested in using game theory, probability theory, and experimental economics as tools of doctrinal analysis. My favorite thing of all is finding some interdisciplinary way to jumpstart a topic that has stalled under traditional research methods.

How did you decide to join the legal profession? Economics and law are deeply intertwined. Markets require laws to operate efficiently, and law is infused with theories of bargaining, market concepts, and complex economic incentive structures. I’ve been obsessed with this intersection for longer than I can easily remember, and both my legal practice and my research interests reflect this obsession.

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education/law school setting? Compared to undergraduate students and grad students, the great thing about law students is that they fight back. They don’t sit quietly and listen to a lecture. They engage the substance and fight the premises. This makes teaching law students a great deal of fun.

Are you enjoying Iowa City so far? Yes! The Farmer’s Market is amazing. I make it there every week. The library system is also great. Raising a child in a City of Literature has undeniable perks.

If you could get rid of one invention in the world, what would you choose? Why? LinkedIn. It just gets in the way. It’s like a second job that won’t stop asking me to pay it money.

What’s your favorite book, or what are you reading right now & why do you enjoy it? Not exactly a favorite book, but the one I always recommend is Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. The name completely undersells it. It’s a book about the psychology of mistakes. The premise of the book is that every time you push a pull-door or can’t work the voicemail on your phone, that’s not your fault but a faulty design. When you start to think about all the ways that your “things” could better accommodate your human limitations, you start to wonder why you ever need to make “mistakes” at all.

Name a few of your favorite things. Really? Okay—you asked for it. I enjoy Irish Punk music, Guinness, and most other Irish exports. I spend a surprising amount of time working with scripting languages like R and Python. I spend an even more surprising amount of time thinking about the advocacy implications of typography. (Why do lawyers who wouldn’t dare wear a wrinkled suit to court submit a brief that contains ugly and inconsistent fonts, punctuation, and spacing?) Finally, my five-year-old daughter occupies most of my time and has also taken over most of the space in my house.

Sean Sullivan