Faculty Spotlight: Professor Brian Quinn

Recently I sat down with Prof. Brian Quinn as part of the faculty spotlight series.

Prof. Quinn’s class was the first class I ever had at BC Law (at 9 am on August 31st, 2020, my first day of law school no less) and while I have yet to take other classes with him, he’s appeared on our podcast, and has been a mentor and a voice of reason for me. When I was asked to write a profile of a professor for the faculty spotlight series, I figured Prof. Quinn would be a good choice.

Tell me about yourself and your career.

I lived life by accident. If you look at my resume in reverse it begins to make sense, but I did not have much of a plan. I’m from Westfield, New Jersey and received my undergraduate degree from Georgetown University. My mom is from Spain, and I spent my summers there when I was younger. In college, I felt like I had to take up something like Latin American studies, but found it boring. I accepted an opportunity sophomore year to work at a refugee camp in the Philippines for Vietnamese refugees in the late 1980s. 

I saw it as an escape, learned some Vietnamese, and upon returning to Georgetown received an offer to travel to Vietnam as the first undergraduate student from Georgetown to visit there following the Vietnam War.

I learned Vietnamese and studied literature, and “bumped into” folks from Harvard who invited me along for the task of “escorting Vietnamese delegations through Geneva.”

In need of a job, I came to Massachusetts after I was hired “by accident” by Ted Kennedy to work on educational and healthcare policy in the state, working to advance Sen. Kennedy’s policies alongside Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci.

I then received my MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School at the time John McCain and John Kerry were working on prisoner of war record-keeping issues with the government of Vietnam. The Vietnamese opened their archives to US investigators and those doing international work like me were able to get answers to many unresolved questions and seek closure for families of fallen and captured servicemen.

As relations between the two countries normalized, the US then opened a school in Vietnam in coordination with Harvard to send academics to the country to teach economics to Vietnamese leaders. I was hired to set up and run the school. I taught in Saigon for six years and the Vietnamese harbored a suspicion and sensitivity towards the school, fearing that it could possibly be used by the CIA for espionage purposes to conduct intelligence operations inside the country.

What did your Vietnamese hosts worry about?

The Vietnamese feared that privatization and education of young people would cause the communist Vietnamese government to be overthrown. My phones were tapped, and suspicions ran high, but all told the experience was positive.

What was your next stop?

The school I worked at eventually expanded to teaching law and policy. Having no legal education in my background, I was offered the choice of attending Harvard or Stanford to receive an LLM, and then return to teaching at the school in Vietnam. I chose Stanford, in part because my wife didn’t want to deal with the snow.

I never thought I’d want to be a lawyer, but I enjoyed my studies and decided to pursue the JD. Stanford told me that I’d need to take the LSAT in order to continue and after doing well enough on it, got the JD.

I didn’t want to practice in the long term and wanted to return to teaching. After a short stint at Cooley LLP, I entered the national academic legal market, and found myself teaching at BC Law.

How did you end up teaching contracts for the first time my 1L year? How was that?

I hadn’t taught it before, they needed someone, it interfaced well with other areas of business law so picking up the course was not too challenging.

What else do you teach?

I teach corporations, mergers & acquisitions, and venture capital. When I start a course, I think to myself “what are the kinds of things students leaving law school should know so that they can begin to develop professionally?”

My goal is not to make someone an expert in corporate law, but to get them ready so that when they start their first work assignment at their first job, they’re in a position to grow. I have students draft documents, and get a hands-on, real world grounding in what a practice area is, and it’s not just about reading.

I try to empathize with students, most of whom have probably never done anything business related before—“the English majors.”

What sticks with you about teaching?

What sticks with me are my students who graduate and are in practice and for whatever reason call me up one day to talk about something they learned from me a few years ago. 

Any exam advice?

Every professor has something they’re looking for, and students should understand that beforehand and should just ask them and be explicit as possible what the expectations are. Sometimes students don’t perform like they expect, and almost always know what they’re doing, but just need to know the expectations.

What do you do for fun?

I like the outdoors and I enjoy hiking in New Hampshire.

Alright, I gotta ask about the kicks, by popular demand from my peers, why do you wear black Nike Air Force Ones every day?

My daughter works for Nike, I receive a lot of stuff from the company, and prefer the black Air Force Ones as they are “something I can wear to law school.”

Tom Blakely is a second-year student at BC Law, and co-host of the BC Law Just Law Podcast. Contact him at blakelth@bc.edu.

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