Summer 2011 Syllabus

Part of my job as a law professor is to model to students what a transactional attorney does. As part of that, I include in my syllabus a list of things media that they ought to consume in order to understand the world a business lawyer functions in. The list is not exhaustive, by any means, nor should they necessarily read or listen to all of it, but it provides a slice of intelligent commentary on the world I’m teaching them how to enter.

If you were preparing people to do what you do, what resources would you recommend? [fn1] And, if you do what I prepare my students to do, what necessary resources am I tragically leaving out? [fn2]


  • Wall Street Journal.  Depending on your politics, you may detest or you may embrace the Opinions section, but the Journal’s business reporting is superb.  (Note that it has a paywall around most of its content; you either need to subscribe or hunt down hard copies.)
  • Financial Times.  The FT is making real inroads in the U.S.  Unfortunately, it, too, has an annoying paywall—I believe you can look at 10 articles a month for free, if you register.
  • New York Times business section [and, of course, the rest of the paper, too].  Of course, it, too, just instituted its paywall
  • Marketplace.  You can listen weeknights at 6:30 pm on WBEZ or you can download the podcast.  I listen to the podcast every morning on the El.  (Website at Note that I’m referring to Marketplace, not Marketplace Money, although MM is a great personal finance show.)
  • Planet Money.  Tuesdays and Fridays have new podcasts.  The reporters make finance and economics approachable without dumbing it down.  The website is at
  • Felix Salmon.  Felix Salmon is my favorite finance/business blogger.  If he’s not your style, you can at least use him to find other finance/business bloggers.
  • TaxProf.  Professor Caron collects tons and tons of tax-related news.
  • TaxVox.  I discovered this in early August 2010: it’s pretty good tax analysis by the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.
  • Finally, I use my Twitter account to link to interesting business and tax stories I see floating around.  You can find me at


[fn1] What does this have to do with Mormonism? Not a whole lot, probably, but I’ll be away from my computer for most of today, and I figure this is relatively uncontroversial and the comments should make for some great reading. And I have to hit my numbers if I want a chance at my T&S elf-shoe-and-pet-jaguar bonus. Moreover, I’m interested in the worlds that Mormons inhabit, and what it is that we use to navigate those worlds. I think those resources we find necessary or helpful are one of the tools we use.

You’ve noticed, of course, that I don’t include any books on my syllabus. That’s mostly because my purpose is to suggest resources that are relatively easy to digest but that provide significant current information. Plus, I don’t have to make significant revisions from year to year.

[fn2] Other stuff I read on a regular basis but that isn’t in my syllabus:

  • Tax Notes. I believe a subscription will run you over $1,000 a year but, if your institution subscribes (or you have access to LEXIS), there’s not a better source of tax news and analysis. (I don’t actually know why this isn’t on my syllabus–I may have to move it there.)
  • The Atlantic. I think this is the best magazine in print or online, frankly. I read it religiously, and follow both @TheAtlantic and @TheAtlanticWire on Twitter.
  • Time Out Chicago. When we lived in New York and had no kids, we got Time Out New York so that we knew what was going on in the city. Then, when we had kids in New York, we still subscribed to know what was going on in the city. But when we moved to Chicago, our Time Out New York became much less helpful, so we switched to the city-appropriate version of the magazine.
  • Newsweek. I know what you’re thinking, especially if you’re as snooty as I am (or you’ve seen it since The Daily Beast bought it out). Some decent articles, but it’s okay at best. Still, it was a free gift when we renewed our WBEZ membership, so Newsweek has another nine months or so to sell me on renewing my subscription.
  • Slate and Salon. I really like How the World Works and Moneybox. I could care less about many of the other features. But they renew their stories and articles on a regular basis, and there tend to be at least two or three decent articles per site per day.
  • Parts of the Bloggernacle.

Other media consumption that isn’t on my syllabus

  • Podcasts: I listen to a few other podcasts, including This American Life (a survey of life as a modern upper-middle-class American) The Bowery Boys (New York City history), On the Media, and Sound Opinions.
  • TV (well, technically Hulu): Community and Modern Family. Plus Burn Notice and Psych when they’re on.

31 comments for “Summer 2011 Syllabus

  1. Careful, Sam. Acknowledgement of giving money to public radio (and listening to This American Life) outs you as an America-hating socialist and tax-loving dupe.

  2. WBEZ => Newsweek subscription
    WNYC => New Yorker subscription

    IMO, that isn’t a very flattering comparison!! I think I’ll stay here in NYC. [GRIN]

  3. Kent,
    We also got our Atlantic Monthly subscription renewed. Plus a thumbdrive of ~35 This American Life episodes. Back when we were in New York and became members of WNYC, we just got a solar-powered radio. ;)

  4. Wall Street Journal. Depending on your politics, you may detest or you may embrace the Opinions section, but the Journal’s business reporting is superb.

    Has Murdoch corrupted the business section yet? As long as he is owner, I would want nothing to do with it. At some point, you have to make it hurt him for him being such a dirtbag.

    As for economics/business, I recommend Brad Delong’s blog, among those you haven’t listed.

  5. Atlantic is both interesting and revolting. On-line they have the very insightful Megan McCardle as well as the terminally delusional Andrew Sullivan The journalistic rot is starting to infect the main pages of the WSJ where stories are increasingly picked from the MSM agenda and tilted leftward. It’s what you get when you hire “journalists”.

  6. A couple things: (1) Come on; this one isn’t controversial.

    (2) If you talk trash about The Atlantic, you’re dead to me. FWIW.

  7. John C., Al,
    the two of you are making it hard to decide whether elite or populist self-pity is the more offputting. Step up your games.

  8. Having said that has anyone read anything about Operation Fast and Furious? If not you are not reasonably informed and you need to check your reading lists.

  9. Sam, my own discipline and interests are fairly distant from yours, but I enjoyed this post and I love your footnotes. You’ve got my support for the elf shoes. Keep up the good work, and there might be a pet jaguar in it for you.

  10. Do you want to know what it takes to be as informed as Award-Winning Bloggernacle Commenter gst? Do you have what it takes to consume the massive and meaty media diet required to sustain the caloric output that’s necessary to compete at the highest levels of Mormon blog commenting? Then read on.

    The Fresno Bee
    QST (the membership magazine of the Amateur Radio Relay League)
    My homeowner’s association newsletter
    Chess Life (membership organ of the US Chess Federation)
    K9YA Telegraph
    World Radio Magazine Online
    Cabela’s catalog
    The Chronicle of Higher Education (and Chronicle Review)
    The entire family of Matsby blogs (including especially My Religious Blog, Robot Blog, T=Time, Axl Rose: Hungry Time Traveler)
    Alumni magazines of various institutions I’ve attended (just scanning the News and Updates section for my classmates to see how their career progression stacks up to mine)
    Arts & Letters Daily
    The Junior Ganymede, to keep abreast of developments Greenwoodian
    WSJ The Best of the Web Today
    Twitter feed of Shawneee Toots
    Craigslist notifier feed using search terms “firewood,” “chest freezer,” and “sailboat”

    Now, enter to learn, go forth to serve.

  11. I like many of the suggestions and listen religiously to Marketplace. I am surprised that The Economist wasn’t included. It may be a bit light on substance but it does give a better perspective of what is going on outside of the Anglo-Saxon world, even when the US and UK dominate the articles. The website has a paywall after 5 articles per week but their blogs are free.

  12. The entire list is very familiar and mine was/is/would be very similar. Of course, I’m a tax lawyer in Chicago.
    But that’s only if limited to “commentary.” The most obvious omission is primary materials–tax code and regulations, opinions, rulings. I’m regularly surprised (if that’s not an oxymoron) at how much commentary gets wrong.
    The obvious extension to Mormonism is “where do the scriptures belong?” in an analogous list.

  13. Thanks, everyone so far. A couple responses:

    Dan, I was worried when Murdoch bought the WSJ. Overall, it’s a little less indepth and a little more mainstream/pandering than it was, but overall, it’s still essential reading.

    Hans, since I got an iPhone, I discovered that the The Economist app lets you read six or so articles a week for free, so I’ve started reading it. I’m on the fence about what I think, but I haven’t quit reading the free articles yet.

    Jonathan, thanks. I’m looking forward to getting the shoes. I’d love to hear what you’d recommend as periodical material for someone starting down the road of your field. (And this goes for everybody else, too.)

    Chris, that’s a good point about the Code. That’s required reading in the actual assignments part of my syllabus. What I’ve reproduced here is the part where I introduce students to things they should probably be familiar with in order to understand the business world in which they’ll be functioning. Also, where are you here in Chicago?

    And gst, with a media diet like that, I have no idea where you get the time to be an Award-Winning Bloggernacle Commenter.

  14. Thank you for posting this Prof. Brunson. I wish that more of my Professors (in both my JD and LLM programs) had placed more importance on understanding the regulatory environment instead of merely directing us to treaties or the code. In my experience, nothing is a better resource than The Economist Magazine. In addition to a providing cornucopia of phenomenal and accessible content (especially for the lawyerly types that tend to struggle with complex quantitative reasoning) most articles are available online.

    … sigh now back to bar study!

  15. So the general consensus is, I need to look at The Economist more seriously.

    And RDB, good luck on the Bar! Just a couple more weeks now . . .

  16. You’ve managed to point out the overlap between tax attorneys and transactional attorneys., while missing out on the overlap between transactional attorneys and the poor litigators who have to deal with the fall out of their drafting errors.

  17. David points out that you need to appreciate the culture of your clients. If your client base listens to Limbaugh every day, you need to catch part of it at least once a week.

    And the WSJ, the week-end edition is a must read.

  18. Stephen, that’s a good point about poorly-drafted transactional documents. A partner at the firm I used to work for liked to run his contracts by the litigation department so that he knew what would happen if the deal went south after being signed. That said, the point behind this part of my syllabus is to provide students who may have no familiarity with the business world a way to start to know it.

    Dan, I really am uninterested in telling my students what their political beliefs should be. That said, whatever their political beliefs, if they want to be in the transactional world, they need to read the WSJ, irrespective of who owns it. That need will end once the Journal stops being the premier (or, at least, a significant) source of business news in the U.S. (Frankly, as I said in the post, I think the Financial Times is a better source of business news, but the Journal’s still necessary.)

  19. To answer your question, here’s my list of what people who want to get into publishing (especially children’s book publishing) should be reading:

    Publisher’s Weekly
    Children’s Bookshelf (by PW, free weekly e-newsletter) (Follow them on Twitter as well.)
    Publisher’s Lunch (free e-newsletter, including book deals)
    Writing Excuses (podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler)
    The Horn Book magazine
    Read Roger (blog of Horn Book’s editor)
    A Fuse #8 Production (blog at School Library Journal of a librarian who reviews middle grade and picture books)
    GalleyCat (Also follow them on Twitter)
    SFWA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America)
    Diversity in YA
    Reading in Color (The blog of an actual teen who focuses on people of color in the books she reads and reviews.)

    And there are so many book blogs that somone wanting to get into publishing should read. Not to mention the HUGE number of writers, editors, and agents who blog, twitter, and use FB.
    A great curated list by HarperCollins editor Martha Mihalick of editors on Twitter can be found here as well as a great list of publishers by Writers Digest.) Too many to list, but the links above are a great place to start.

  20. Dan,
    But that’s the editorial page, and the editorial page has always been disconnected from reality. Even in the pre-Murdoch days, that was a libertarian playground. Absent Murdoch, it probably wouldn’t have printed its absurd attack on the attack on News of the World. But if you skip the three pages or so that constitute that section, you have a really good, solid business newspaper.

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