Practice makes perfect

March 24, 2023


The path to legal academia wasn’t straightforward for Professor Jessica Erickson, the Nancy Litchfield Hicks Professor of Law. “There are people who go into law school knowing that they eventually want to end up in academia,” she said. “That was not me. I joined a law firm here in town, and candidly, I loved it. I thought I would be there for my entire career.”

Initially recruited to Richmond by Hunton Andrews Kurth and practicing law focused in corporate governance and shareholder litigation, Erickson began considering legal academia after conversations with colleagues who were teaching while practicing law. “I knew I loved my job as a lawyer, but I realized that I might love teaching law even more,” she said. This curiosity led her to join the Richmond Law faculty, where she has served since 2007.

While teaching courses primarily focused on business law, Erickson believes it’s important for students to also know what it’s like to practice law. In 2021, she merged her experience in both arenas to launch the Richmond Law and Business Forum. The program, born out of conversations Erickson had while serving as the law school’s associate dean for faculty development, gives students an inside look into the practice of business law by hosting speakers on campus and coordinating networking events.

“I really wanted to think about how we can help students take that next step in their professional development by talking to lawyers, learning about the practice of law, and reflecting on what they want their own journey to be in the practice of law,” Erickson said. “The forum helps students understand what business lawyers do every day.”

The most popular set of events is a series called Business Law Over Dinner, in which two to three lawyers from a particular type of business law practice and a handful of students interested in that practice area gather around a table for dinner.

“These dinners allow students to learn about the particular practice area, but they also help students learn about the practice of law more generally,” said Erickson. “And I think those conversations are truly invaluable.” Implementing the same strategy when she teaches, Erickson relies on the network of connections she built while practicing law to support the forum.

“I’ve been able to reach out to former contacts that I had back when I was in practice,” she said. “And they’ve been really willing to contribute and to help our students in that way. So, it’s been a real blessing to be in the same city where I practiced.”