Bringing Business Sense to the Law
During high school, David A. Friedman dreamed of becoming a radio disc jockey. He hung around the local radio station in Bridgeport, Conn., hoping to learn the business by watching the older men who ran the station. He liked the way radio worked and the glamour of the job. The old guys at the station, however, warned him against a career in radio by citing stories of graveyard shifts and financially unstable stations. “I put thoughts of working in radio aside when I went to college,” he said. “But during law school, I got the bug again.”
Years after giving up hopes of becoming a famous DJ, Friedman approached the manager of the campus radio station about starting a community talk show focused on legal issues — and was given a weekly time slot. “We couldn’t give out legal advice over the radio, so we brought in local attorneys and state and local officials to provide advice to callers,” he said. “Our most popular show featured a traffic attorney. Man, the board just lit up that night.”
Surprisingly, Friedman’s second choice of careers was not law, but economics. “In college, I initially thought I wanted to become an economics professor, an academic,” explained Friedman, who earned his undergraduate degree at Yale College. “I fell in love with economics my first week. I really appreciated the analytical puzzle work of microeconomics. The puzzle pieces all fit together and explain the way the world works.”
Following graduation, Friedman went to work for Monitor Group, a consulting company based in Cambridge, Mass.
He spent the next two years working as a corporate strategy consultant for Fortune 1000 clients. “I taught business executives how to market their businesses and become more profitable,” he said.
Friedman enjoyed the demands of consulting, but he longed for greater responsibilities within the company. Seeking an “educational turbo boost” for his career, he took a leave of absence from Monitor to attend Yale Law School. “I knew I would be closer to the action a lot faster if I went to law school,” he explained.
“I wanted a new lens to view the world through,” he said of his decision to study law. “Law would enable me to examine the same set of problems I’d studied in economics, but in a different way. Economics examines how we make decisions about transactions; the law designates the rules governing those transactions.”
While in law school, Friedman did not stray far from his academic roots. In addition to serving as a teaching assistant to Professor James Tobin, who won the 1981 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, Friedman was named a John M. Olin Fellow in Law and Economics. He also worked in a number of legal clinics, including landlord-tenant and environmental protection clinics.
Following graduation, he returned to Monitor Group as a senior corporate strategy consultant, managing cases in highly regulated industries, including telecommunications, transportation and financial services. “My law degree enabled me to work closely with various companies’ general counsels on business strategy,” he said.
After six additional years with Monitor, Friedman reached a crossroads in his career. “In order to move up, I’d have to start selling professional services,” he said. “I didn’t like the idea of competing in corporate beauty contests to win business. I preferred the more intellectually challenging side of the business — helping to make companies more profitable.”
In 2005, Friedman left Monitor to start his own consulting firm, Sutton Place Insights in New York City, where he could work at this own pace and focus on business analysis. His work primarily focused on market analysis and strategic due diligence for private equity firms and commercial banks. The following year, however, he again yielded to the siren call of academia.
In 2006, Friedman became a visiting assistant professor of clinical legal studies in Willamette University’s Clinical Law Program, where he taught the business law clinic. Not long after joining the clinic, he was deputized a special assistant attorney general in the Financial Fraud/Consumer Protection Division of the Oregon Department of Justice. Under his supervision, students enrolled in the law school’s Clinical Law Program helped the DOJ investigate and prosecute numerous high-profile civil cases involving financial fraud and consumer protection issues.
“The best part of teaching in the clinic was seeing students realize how much they were already capable of doing — when they see that link between what they’ve learned in the classroom and what they’re doing in real practice,” Friedman said. “There’s nothing better than seeing students develop and find their professional footing.”
Friedman became a full-time member of the Willamette law faculty in August 2008. An assistant professor specializing in business law, he will teach Contracts I and II and Business Organizations. “Business law can be quite exciting,” he said. “It’s all about greed, deceit, family feuds, the drama of life and our attempt to impose a set of rules to create order. If you make the right rules, then the wheels of commerce grind smoothly.
“Truly substantive problems can be messy,” he added. “You have to struggle to find the best solution
and be able to persuade people with facts and arguments that your answer really is the best. That’s true whether you’re appearing in court, overseeing a transaction or arguing across the kitchen table.”
Friedman appreciates the challenges young lawyers face trying to learn the law and develop skill in the field. And he looks forward to helping them maneuver through the demands of being legal professionals. “I’m looking forward to having that first crack at exposing first-year students to the law,” he said. “I hope to set students on the right course — so they realize that honesty and integrity are important traits to have if you want to pursue a career that promotes justice.”
For Friedman, civility and professionalism are not just theories of behavior but the foundation of good practice. “There’s this notion in law school that who ever speaks loudest wins,” he said. “But it is honesty and desire to problem solve that will ultimately carry the day.”
David A. Friedman
“I hope to set students on the right course — so they realize that honesty and integrity are important traits to have if you want to pursue a career that promotes justice.”