Banking Law Practicum

Today, we continue our look at the third year’s practicum course requirement with a blog post from one of our third year students, Ashleigh Greene. Last semester, Ashleigh was enrolled in the Banking Law practicum. In the course catalog, the course is described as follows:

“This simulation of the Office of General Counsel, Elk Cliff Bank, will explore the rich, forward-looking environment of an in-house banking law practice in a time of financial crisis and, in the process, impart a broad exposure to the discipline of financial institutions law. The Office of General Counsel will hire new staff, negotiate an assistance agreement with the U.S. Treasury Department, help the bank develop a project plan to address the most comprehensive financial reform legislation since the 1930s, and assist with implementing the statute and regulations as developments occur in Washington and the states. As part of Elk Cliff Bank’s corporate team, within a growing firm that needs lawyers who understand its business as well as the intricacies of banking law, the Office of General Counsel will negotiate and draft contracts; analyze and implement new legislation and regulations; advise lobbying efforts; prepare resolutions and proxy materials; write concise business memos; assist in product development; revise consumer forms; manage priorities in a fast-paced, dynamic environment; and set reasonable expectations within the Office of General Counsel and the bank.”

This course is led by James Pannabecker. Professor Pannabecker has extensive experience in the banking and mortgage industries.

Here are Ashleigh’s thoughts:

After working in the banking industry for two years prior to starting law school and during the summer after my first year in law school, I knew the Banking Law Practicum would be a practicum that would fit my interests well. I knew one day I wanted to work in a corporate general counsel’s office, but who would have thought I would get to serve as a member of the general counsel office of Elk Cliff Bank before I even graduated from law school? Plus, with the recent enactment of the Dodd-Frank legislation, a bill with significant implications for banking practices in the United States, I knew this would be an interesting time to take a course in which I would have an opportunity to deal with these kinds of cutting edge issues.

So, one of the things you should know about the practicum courses is that they are simulated experiences. This means that while the problems you encounter are very much like the ones you might encounter if you were an attorney practicing in the area the class focuses on, the clients, parties, etc. involved are fictional. For example, in this class, I worked in the counsel’s office for Elk Cliff Bank (not a real bank), run by its President Dennis Devito (not really a bank president). However, our Professor (Professor Pannabecker), who functioned as our supervising senior attorney in the counsel’s office, was very much real and largely served as our liaison with Mr. Devito.

One day the senior partner forwarded to us an email from a shareholder of Elk Cliff Bank who expressed some concerns on executive compensation. We all panicked. Some responded directly to the shareholder, some responded to general counsel, and some responded to Professor Pannabecker. What we did not know was, this was a test. Professor Pannabecker wanted us to call a meeting to discuss our response and learn the importance of effectively communicating with people outside of the bank.  Professor Pannabecker clearly expressed his opinion about sending communication out before consulting the entire general counsel’s office staff. “Please tell me what your thoughts were when you sent the email to the shareholder? Did you consult your colleagues before this went out, because I did not receive an email?” Even though the class was a simulation, this mistake felt very real.

Flash forward a few weeks. We are in our weekly general counsel meeting. “Where are we with our implementation plan, I asked for this last week?” Professor Pannabecker asked.  Everyone sat in silence, once again we had no idea what to say; we had just started working on this project, it was nowhere near finished. Finally Professor Pannabecker spoke. “Ashleigh, please tell Mr. Devito how the Dodd Frank provisions regulating mortgage lending will impact Elk Cliff.” What? Did he really put me on the spot? “Well Mr. Devito, based on my research Elk Cliff has put itself in a really good position. There are some regulatory changes that impact timing, but overall we have little to worry about.” Glad that was over.

When I signed up for this practicum, I thought I would only learn about swaps, yield spread premiums, and other banking terminology. However, this practicum spread over various areas of law. My final presentation to my colleagues dealt with Dodd-Frank’s constitutional issues. Other colleagues presented on corporate structure, antitrust implications, and much more. Through this practicum, I learned many things. I learned how to conduct myself in a boardroom, how to respond to an email from a supervising attorney or a shareholder, and how to meet the sometimes invisible expectations of your supervising attorney. These were things I could not have learned from a book or even during my summer internships. Professor Pannabecker taught us more than banking law; he taught us how to be lawyers.

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