Thursday, March 24, 2022
By Giovanna Deo

The University of Iowa College of Law recognizes its faculty and their accomplishments in legal education through endowed positions. With the generous support of Iowa Law alumni and friends, these positions were made possible. Last year, Joseph Yockey was one of the seven professors named to endowed positions including chairs, professorships, and fellows. He was named the David H. Vernon Professor of Law.

Professor Yockey stands in front of the portrait of David H. Vernon after his investiture celebration

When asked about his feelings on being named the next David H. Vernon Professor of Law, Yockey stated, “This is really the ultimate honor a person in my profession can achieve. It's very humbling and it creates some new pressure. I want to make sure that I live up to the very high standards of my predecessor, Professor Shelley Kurtz. It's also given me even more motivation to try to do what I can to raise the profile of Iowa Law and help our students succeed.”

With a passion for writing, Yockey knew that he wanted to look for a career that would give him an opportunity to write as much as possible. It was studying abroad in England and sharing a house with mostly law students though that sparked his interest in law.

Yockey decided that he would dedicate himself to those studies when he moved back to the US and “loved every minute of law school.” It was a “natural fit” for him. He graduated from the University of Kansas in 2000, and then from University of Illinois College of Law in 2004, where he served as articles editor for the University of Illinois Law Review.

After law school, he clerked for Judge John D. Tinder (United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, retired) and practiced corporate litigation with Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago. Yockey then returned to Illinois Law for a two-year teaching position as a visiting assistant professor. To date, he has been named Iowa Law Teacher of the Year, and he is a five-time nominee for the campus-wide President and Provost Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Yockey’s primary area of research is corporate law, with a particular focus on ethics and compliance. He shared, “I look at how corporations make decisions. And then, when it comes to their compliance with the law, what conditions influence whether they do or do not comply.”

Although his original interest was in criminal law, over the years it shifted more towards corporate corruption and corporate governance. Yockey considers Larry Ribstein, his professor at the University of Illinois, to be the reason behind the shift in his interests. He saw Ribstein as a mentor for most of his career until he passed away, unexpectedly, in 2011.

Professor Yockey currently teaches Business Associations, Securities Regulation, , and a seminar on Compliance, Ethics, and Risk Management. In the classroom, Yockey tries his best to make his courses come alive for his students in exciting, creative ways. He noted that, “Having the opportunity to work with students, to watch them piece the puzzles together, and then to see them come out of the discussions with new insights—the process is just incredibly rewarding.”

In the past couple of years, Professor Yockey has served on the steering committee for the business law section of the Iowa State Bar Association. The committee meets regularly to talk about how the bar association can support business law practitioners in the state and organize continuing education programs for Iowa attorneys. Yockey also recently completed a term as president of the University of Iowa Faculty Senate (2020-2021), which he notes was a “really exciting, yet very, very difficult period given all the challenges that the university faced with the pandemic and with major leadership changes, including a search for a new university president.” At the law school, he has served on a variety of committees over the past decade, including the most recent dean’s search that resulted in the hiring of Dean Washburn.

For students interested in studying business law, Yockey says that there’s something for everyone. “If you think about business law and businesses in general, they touch every aspect of our lives every day. It's not a field you have to worry about going out of style. There will always be opportunities. It’s a very stable practice area. And it is gratifying to be able to help people solve complex problems with high stakes,” says Professor Yockey.

The Vernon Professorship was established in memory of David H. Vernon, a former dean and long-time law faculty member. The Vernon Professorship was funded by colleagues, alumni, and friends of Iowa Law to extend his legacy after his passing in 2001. David Vernon held degrees from Harvard and New York University and served as a member of the faculty at New York University Law School, University of Houston Law School, and University of New Mexico Law School. He came to Iowa in 1966 as dean. After his deanship ended in 1971, David Vernon joined the faculty where he stayed for 35 years. He was named the Allan D. Vestal Professor of Law in 1986. His work focused on contracts, commercial law, and remedies. Vernon was a beloved member of the Iowa Law community.

The inaugural holder of the Vernon professorship was Randall Bezanson (71JD) who had been a student during Vernon's deanship and his colleague on the Iowa Law faculty. When Randy passed in 2014, Shelly Kurtz was named to the professorship. Both Randy and Shelly had joined the College of Law in 1973 and were faculty and dean colleagues throughout their careers. Upon the retirement of Kurtz in 2021, Yockey was named to the position. His investiture celebration was held on March 7, 2022.