611.48 Readings: Social Justice and Business Law

This readings course explores the intersection between social justice and business law. How do (and should) companies pursue social and environmental goals? What are companies’ proper role in society? Each week will focus on a different issue affecting companies of all sizes and stages, from early-stage startups to large multinational companies. Topics to be covered include race and gender, worker rights, climate change and the environment, AI/tech, and more.

No prior experience in business law is required or expected, though is certainly welcome. The course will meet once per week for the first seven weeks of the semester.

Students will be required to write and submit short response papers after each class, which are due by 5pm on the Friday following class. Students will also be responsible for co-leading discussion for one class session during the semester.

Likely topics include:

1. Week One: Intro to Course and Social Goals and the Venture-Backed Startup

Course overview and background information on the course of the business lifecycle.

How do you scale social and environmental goals in a startup? We will explore the “growth at all costs” model in startups and its compatibility (or not) with the pursuit of social and environmental goals.

Possible Readings: selections from Venture Predation (Wansley and Weinstein), Venture Capital and Social Change (Aguirre)

2. Week Two: Diversity and Entrepreneurship/Venture Capital

Startups are huge drivers of economic growth and employment. But who gets funded and who is doing the funding? What are the systemic effects of VC funding and the startup landscape, particularly in terms of race, ethnicity and gender?

Possible Readings: TBD

3. Week Three: Workers and Social Purpose

How do workers factor into companies’ pursuit of social purpose? How can (and should) firms address the precarity of work and the prevalence of overwork in today’s society? We will explore this at companies of various types, sectors, and stages.

Possible Readings: Sustainability for People and Planet (Yen et al)

4. Week Four: Millennials, Gen Z and Social Purpose

How do generational shifts affect the pursuit of social purpose, as Millennials and Gen Zers increasingly occupy the largest share of employees, investors, and consumers?

Possible Readings: The Millennial Corporation (Barzuza, Curtis, and Webber)

5. Week Five: The Social Benefits of Control

What happens when we entrench insider control of companies in the name of social good? The use of structures like multi-class shares have raised a lot of controversy over what constitutes good governance. How concerned should we be over these structures, and do they add any value when used to protect the pursuit of social purpose?

Possible Readings: selections from Ousted (Aran and Pollman), The Social Benefits of Control (Aguirre)

6. Week Six: Regulatory Entrepreneurship

Sometimes firm business models entail breaking the law, or trying to change the law to accommodate new technologies, innovations, or changing views of the world. How should we treat law-breaking companies who rely on regulatory entrepreneurship for their business model?

Possible Readings: Regulatory Entrepreneurship (Pollman)

7. Week Seven: Balancing Multiple Objectives Simultaneously

What happens with social purposes come into conflict with each other? How should we manage tradeoffs? We will discuss this topic through the lens of crypto, AI, health, and climate change, among other topics.

Possible Readings: TB

Special Notes:


Spring 2023

Course Number Course Credits Evaluation Method Instructor
Course Credits
Reflective Writing
Class participation
Emilie K. Aguirre
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW-611-48-Sp23
Email list: LAW-611-48-Sp23@sakai.duke.edu
Degree Requirements
Course Requirements - JD
Course Requirements - LLM
Course Requirements - Public Interest
Course Areas of Practice
Course Areas of Practice