Marisa Pagnattaro, Meigs professor of legal studies in the Terry College of Business, wants her students to appreciate how the law affects their careers, lives and the world around them. Her research on China and her students’ study abroad experiences add depth to classroom discussions on law and culture.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my undergraduate degree in English from Colgate University, my law degree from New York Law School and my Ph.D. in English from UGA. I’m a professor of legal studies in the Terry College of Business.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 1992 to pursue a Ph.D. in American literature. I was a litigation attorney in Atlanta with Kilpatrick & Cody (now Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP). Being somewhat disillusioned with the practice of law, I turned to the study and teaching of literature. In earning my Ph.D., however, I found a connection between law and literature that kick-started a new career for me—one that led to the study and teaching of law and, ultimately, my current position at the Terry College.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I really enjoy all of the courses I teach, but I have a special interest in “International Legal Transactions for Business.” Many of the students in the class have study abroad and travel experiences, which add depth to our discussions and perspectives on law and culture.
What interests you about your field?
Like literature, the law compels a reflection on day-to-day struggles, whether it be personal or business interactions. But the law is very dynamic and its relevance to our daily lives offers students—particularly business students—an immediate connection to their own future occupations. I try to add to that dynamic by tweeting breaking national and international legal news.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
As a graduate student, I had the privilege of studying modernism with the late professor Hugh Kenner, the country’s leading expert on the work of Ezra Pound and James Joyce, and working on his archive. I also have really enjoyed the opportunity to teach in a number of study abroad programs, including Oxford, Verona and China. But the opportunity to mentor students in their careers is perhaps the most rewarding of my experiences. I have to add that there is rarely a day that I leave campus when I don’t think “this sure beats practicing law.”
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I’ve written on many aspects of Chinese law and bring a substantial China component into my classes. China is a fascinating country that presents companies with many legal challenges. As a result, there are endless issues to research and to discuss in class. From the other perspective, my students are full of fresh ideas and intriguing questions that spark my own thoughts on business research and pedagogy. For example, my students’ enthusiasm for my contract negotiation workshops prompted a pedagogical paper on the topic that has been published and is being used in other universities.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I want them all to be legal nerds—to understand and appreciate how the law affects their lives and the world around them. Seriously, the law is so much a part of our daily existence, especially in the business community, that without a basic understanding they are at a disadvantage. With at least a basic understanding, they will have an edge in all that they do.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is one who is still interested in the law and international issues long after the class is over. I am thrilled when former students take the time to write to me out of the blue, sending a news article, book recommendation or some legal cautionary tale from business to share with my classes. It means the student has taken to heart what I have taught and I can feel that my class has made a difference.
Favorite place on campus is…
Walking through the Founders Memorial Garden on my way to and from my office is always a lovely part of my day.
Beyond the UGA campus …
I love spending time with my daughters Simone, 16, and Sophia, 9, and sharing in their passions. I enjoy cooking and discussing the law with my husband, who is a local attorney. I love to travel and all the adventure that comes with it. I’m also involved with a very engaging book group composed of some the smartest women I know. Some day when I have more time, I promise myself I am going to spend quality time in my garden and immerse myself in photography.
Community/civic involvement includes …
… being on the board of Classic City Equestrian, my daughter’s Interscholastic Equestrian Association team.
That would be impossible to narrow down. Our house is filled with books. I will say that my favorite last line is in James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”
Proudest moment at UGA?
My proudest moments are at both ends of the university spectrum: earning my Ph.D. and recently being named a Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor, the university’s highest recognition for instruction. I’m thankful for the outstanding mentors I’ve had throughout my career at UGA.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
At the end of each semester, I often read a passage to my students from Kurt Vonnegut’s “A Man Without a Country.” Here is the key line: “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” We are all so busy and life can be so difficult at times that, when things are going well, we need to occasionally reward ourselves if only to pause briefly and enjoy the moment.