Michael Murphy

Scholar of technology and lawyer well-being brings broad practice experience to Startup Ventures Clinic

Michael Murphy, a legal educator with a wide range of practice experience, joined the faculty Jan. 1 as clinical professor of law and supervising attorney of the Startup Ventures Clinic.

Since 2018, Murphy had been clinical supervisor and lecturer in law in the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. He earlier was corporate counsel at electronic trading pioneer SEI and general counsel during the startup phase of BrainDo, a digital marketing agency in Philadelphia. A scholar of technology and legal practice and lawyer well-being, Murphy chairs the communications committee of the Clinical Legal Education Association and is an executive committee member of the Section on Balance and Well-Being in Legal Education of the Association of American Law Schools.

Clinical Professor Bryan McGann, director of the Startup Ventures Clinic, calls Murphy “a perfect fit: “His education and experience make Mike the perfect balance of a terrific teacher and an entrepreneur, with a history of instructing students in a similar clinic.”

“On top of all that, Mike has an ability to combine the seriousness of our work with an appropriate levity that only a true stand-up comedian can bring. I know that our students, our colleagues, and Duke Law School will all benefit from his skills.”

Raised in Farmington Hills, Mich., Murphy received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Oakland University and his JD from the University of Michigan Law School. After clerking at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he began practice in the commercial litigation and labor and employment groups at Blank Rome in Philadelphia.

Murphy became known at the firm as an expert in electronic discovery, then in a nascent stage. In 2014 he began teaching a course he created on e-discovery and digital evidence at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law, leading to what he jokingly calls the “derailment” of his career.

“Much to my dismay as a private practitioner, I realized that while I enjoyed practice, I loved teaching,” Murphy says.

Resolving to eventually pivot to teaching, he began to work on law review articles in the evenings. He soon joined BrainDo as its third employee and general counsel, despite having little experience with common issues facing startups such as entity formation, partnership agreements, commercial leases, and trademarking a logo.

“I learned how to do small business law by figuring it out through necessity, all the while very much wishing I had taken something like the Startup Ventures Clinic when I was in law school,” he says. Murphy was working as in-house counsel at SEI Investments, a publicly traded financial services technology company, when a post opened up at Penn’s Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic. There he supervised students in providing pro bono transactional legal services to social ventures, economic development projects, and community entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia area.

“I am living proof that a career path with a law degree is by no means a straight line,” Murphy says. “A lot of what we do in clinical legal education is help students figure out who they are as a professional so they can practice law their way, even if it means making a career decision that people think is crazy.”

Adapting the legal profession to a changing world

One of Murphy’s scholarly interests is the impact of technology on legal practice and ways to overcome resistance to  innovation. In “The Search for Clarity in an Attorney’s Duty to Google,” 18 Legal Comm. & Rhetoric: JALWD 133 (2021), Murphy discusses how the obligation to investigate facts has evolved with the emergence of new technologies and proposes codifying a requirement to conduct internet research using search engines (the “duty to Google”) in rules governing professional responsibility as part of an attorney’s basic technological competence.

In “Just and Speedy: On Civil Discovery Sanctions for Luddite Lawyers,” 25 Geo. Mason L. Rev. 36 (2017), Murphy argues that judges could impose civil sanctions on lawyers who refuse to adopt technology under Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which directs parties involved “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.”

“Not adopting technology appears to be doing nothing, but is also itself a decision with risk and benefit,” he writes. “Sanctioning luddite attorneys increases the risk of doing nothing, which makes the avoidance of innovation less of a reasonable choice.”

He also devotes considerable time to studying lawyer happiness and well-being, believing that working alongside entrepreneurs in legal clinics can help law students build confidence and a healthy professional identity through exposure to a growth mindset. It is an idea Murphy develops in a chapter titled “How Working with Entrepreneurs Makes Law Students into Happier, Healthier Lawyers,” Contemporary Challenges in Clinical Legal Education (Routledge, forthcoming). He says it occurred to him while reading reflection papers submitted throughout the year by his Penn clinic students.

“Students would refer to seeing the world the way their clients do as being really helpful in finding a place of comfort as a young professional. And it’s really a mindset of becoming comfortable being uncomfortable.

“Entrepreneurs are radical optimists. They take a leap of faith that they’ll figure out what they don’t know along the way. Seeing the world through those eyes helps law students function better as attorneys, because the law changes all the time, but they gain a sense that they can understand it and interpret it when they need to.

“So a clinic that gets students into a room with entrepreneurs is not just a great way to help the community and teach valuable skills, but it might actually solve a problem that law schools struggle with, which is why our students and young professionals are so much less happy than other professionals. And regardless of the causes, how do we solve it?”

Teaching resilience through comedy

Murphy and his wife, also a lawyer, are active in pro bono and volunteer work, including dog rescue; they share their home with canine companions Little Ann, Spock, and a rotating pack of foster dogs.

Murphy also is an avid participant in live story slams and improvisational comedy, which he says teaches lessons that can be applied in any legal discipline or negotiation and help law students put their careers in perspective amid inevitable setbacks. He hopes to bring to Duke a workshop or class on improvisational  and how it can help students be better, happier lawyers.

“If I have one key message for Duke Law students, it’s that it is absolutely possible to be a law student and have fun, and to be a successful lawyer and have fun. And together, we are going to figure out how.”

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Spring 2023
Volume 42 No. 1