From comic books to courtrooms: Professor an expert on government crises

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Troy Brown's fascination with law began with--of all things--comic books, when he and a middle school buddy got into a spirited debate about the correct meaning of the name, "Quasar, the Cosmic Avenger."

"My friend argued the title meant that Quasar had cosmic powers. I interpreted it as meaning Quasar was the avenger of the cosmos," he says. "This simple difference in interpretation led to both of us doing hours of research, writing short memos citing comic books as evidence for our respective conclusions, and even contacting other comic aficionados.

"In essence we were acting like lawyers, and I thought if I can get paid to this kind of advocacy, then that would be a fantastic job."

And so Brown, assistant professor at Michigan State University College of Law, earned his bachelor's degree summa cum laude in political science from Morgan State University in Baltimore before obtaining his law degree from Harvard Law School. He also holds a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, and was active in the Black Law Student Association and Black Student Caucus.

He joined the Spartan faculty in July 2009, and teaches Professional Responsibility and Conflict of Laws.

Before heading north to Michigan, he was an attorney at McGuire Woods in Atlanta, practicing complex commercial litigation and some trademark litigation.

"Up until and through law school, I envisioned myself being a trial attorney and doing a great deal of courtroom appearances litigating over business disputes and transactions," he says. "I was drawn to this area because I love problem resolution, persuasion, argumentation, and negotiation. Complex commercial litigation allowed me to use these skills not only to end disputes, but also to help businesses function better."

The Baltimore native has also worked for the Atlanta firms of Lord, Bissell, & Brook, and Powell, Goldstein, Frazer, & Murphy.

A member of several professional legal groups including the American Bar Association and the Gate City Bar American, his research interests focus on governmental response to crisis. He recently completed an article assessing whether the new financial reform law, the Dodd-Frank Act, encourages or discourages large interconnected financial institutions to act recklessly with the expectation the federal government will provide the kind of bailouts seen in 2008.

"The concept that a party insulated from risk behaves differently than it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk is known as moral hazard. By targeting the sources that encourage moral hazard, we can hopefully identify crises before they happen," he says.

"The major crises we've seen over the past three years--the 2008 financial crisis, BP's Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent massive oil leak, and Japan's current nuclear crisis--share similar sources that encourage moral hazard: entrenched policies that favor deregulation, entrenched relationships between regulators and the regulated that obfuscate the regulatory role, subsidies in the form of bailouts or protectionist policies that favor large interconnected or otherwise important institutions, and multiple information asymmetries."

The typical solution is more regulation, but regulation is often only as good as those who are tasked with interpreting and enforcing said regulation, he says.

"In regards to the Dodd-Frank Act, aside from the technical flaws, vagueness of important definitions, and difficulty determining what a proper counter-cyclical financial policy should look like, I find it curious that so much authority has been placed in the hands of institutions--the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department--and people who failed to spot the very problems they were already charged with guarding against in the first place, specifically over-speculation and use of leverage.

"As long as we prioritize innovation and productivity over stability, the U.S. financial system will always be subject to the boom-bust cycle followed by massive federal bailouts," he says. "In fact, while the Dodd-Frank Act does prescribe an orderly wind down process, it nevertheless still allows for another TARP-like program to be erected in the face of another crisis. In my opinion, the entrenched policies and relationships, and the legal possibility of a massive federal bailout encourage moral hazard."

Brown enjoys grooming the next generation of lawyers.

"I love teaching," he says. "I enjoy teaching my students to be able to argue any side of an issue from legal and policy perspectives. I provide my students with a balance of my experience as a practitioner and a blend of legal, economic, and political theory to enable them to contextualize and analyze the legal profession and its relationship with society. We do a lot of complex problem solving in both of my classes, and a lot of writing in Conflict of Laws seminar. I believe this pedagogical combination not only makes them better lawyers, but also aids in their ability to tackle the challenges they will meet in the future.

"Another critical aspect of being an ethics professor is teaching my students about professionalism, ethical centeredness, and proficiency. I especially enjoy teaching at MSU, because law students here represent a great combination of intelligence and competence, and being extremely socially adept. After all, success as a lawyer comes not only from being a good lawyer, but also from being a good person. Clients hire lawyers who are effective and ones they like, so being effective and likeable is a simple but powerful recipe for success."

While Brown is no fan of Michigan winters, he is acclimating to the Great Lakes State after years in Georgia.

"Atlanta is a faster paced city, and as a lawyer working for a large law firm, my lifestyle got pretty hectic," he says. "Now I live roughly seven minutes from campus, so Lansing has a distinct college town feel, which I find invigorating. The energy and enthusiasm radiating from campus is undeniable. I relish the convenience of living in Lansing as well.

"Atlanta will always have a special significance to me as my brother and some other family and many friends are there, but in Lansing, my gym is across the street from campus, and everything is so close."

Brown, who is engaged to a New York lawyer he began dating in law school, enjoys bodybuilding and martial arts--he trained in Wu-Shu Kung-Fu for seven years, and has branched into other disciplines. An avid video game player, he particularly enjoys Crysis 2, Thor: God of Thunder, and Mass Effect 2.

"And I have a fascination with existential and transcendental philosophy--I'm working on a book that will combine my love of comic books with my love of philosophy, history, and religion."

Published: Thu, Jun 2, 2011

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