Interviewee: Andrew Johnston, Professor of Company Law and Corporate Governance, Director of the Sheffield LLM, Director of Internationalisation, University of Sheffield, School of Law, Winter St Sheffield
1. What got interested you in academics? How was the initiation into this field like?
I practised law in a large commercial law firm and then with the UK Government. I wanted to learn more about the ‘big picture’ of how the different parts of the legal system fit together, how the law interacts with disciplines such as economics, and about the social impacts of the law.
I began by teaching at the University of Warsaw in Poland, and then wrote a PhD at the European University Institute in Florence. I always really enjoyed the teaching side of the academic’s role; the research side of the job was much tougher at first.
It is essential to write a PhD if you want to become an academic in the UK. PhD studies not only teach you how to research, they also show you how much you don’t know.
2. What are the best things about your job?
There is a great deal of freedom to pursue your interests. I research the areas which interest me the most, so that I am on top of current developments in law and economics.
Recently I have looked into country-by-country tax reporting, company law and sustainability, and the historical evolution of corporate social responsibility in the UK. I try to engage with policy-makers to change the law to make the world a better place.
I enjoy team-building, and think I have contributed to building on outstanding team of legal scholars in the Sheffield Institute of Corporate and Commercial Law. I also really enjoy teaching and work hard to improve the student experience – recently I have been developing and marketing programmes that meet the needs of international students.
I get to travel a fair bit as well, meeting other academics and students from around the world. This year alone I have visited China, India, Norway and Malta!
3. And what are the worst things?
The increasing amounts of administration which takes time away from research and teaching. While it’s important to do, it’s not as fun as teaching a seminar or writing a paper.
4. You recently visited India and University of Sheffield entered into tie-ups with NUJS, NLUD and JGLS. As a first impression, what do you make of Indian law Universities and their deans/VCs? What surprised you about our colleges?
I was very impressed by the universities I visited in India. The deans and vice-chancellors have a clear vision of where they are going, the lecturers and professors are experts in their fields, and the students I met were outstanding.
They are all very open to international engagement and exchanges.
I was surprised that the universities tend to be residential, and that students spend so much time engaging in communal life.
5. What makes a good professor (skills, attitudes, etc.)?
Flexibility, flexibility and flexibility. The work demands we face are constantly changing, and so is the law. You have to be able to juggle a number of competing demands on your time.
6. How does a student go about improving his research and writing skills?
I always recommend that my students read the Financial Times – our university provides a subscription to it. This exposes them to good writing and also deepens their understanding of the commercial world.
Wider reading across disciplines is also essential. I always recommend that my students attend the research events that we hold: this allows you to see how other people approach research and to learn from them.
7. Your advice for students who are interested in corporate law. What are the books/resources your recommend for a general understanding of the principles of corporate law?
I always recommend Paul Davies’ Introduction to Company Law, but I also like the perspective of Lorraine Talbot in Critical Company Law.
My all time favourite book on corporate governance is Margaret Blair’s Ownership and Control: Rethinking Corporate Governance for Twenty-First Century (1995, Brookings Institute).
That book greatly influenced my research into corporate governance. Apart from these books, the financial press (such as the Financial Times), as well as good blogs (such as www.nakedcapitalism.com or www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog), help students understand the wider social, political and economic context of corporate law.
8. What’s ‘a day in the life of’ Prof. Andrew Johnston like? (Of course, each day will be a bit different, but what’s a general day like for you?)
There is no typical day, but the average day will include a bit of teaching whether to a smaller seminar group or to lecture theatre full of students. Apart from this, some individual meetings with research students, some time reading and writing, and perhaps a meeting in the department.
We hold a lot of research events in the Law School, with visiting speakers from all over the world, so I will often go to a seminar at the end of the day.