Professor Craig Ehrlich is an Associate Professor of Law, teaching business law to undergraduate and graduate students. Prior to this, he was a practicing lawyer in Chicago and Seoul for fifteen years.
Free Press: How did you come to be a professor?
Craig Ehrlich: I read wanted ads in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I was practicing law at the time. I was overseas and I really wanted to come back to America. I got really tired of being a foreigner and I got really tired of living in the third world too, to be honest. So I wanted to come home—had to do that. And at the same time, I needed a new job. I thought of making a career change because I had been, at that time, a lawyer for fifteen years, and it pretty much sucks. So I subscribed and answered wanted ads and got called in for an interview. That’s how I came here.
FP: Do you like it here?
CE: Most of the time, yes. I would say it’s a lot less stressful. For sure I’m not going to court here and I don’t have to chase clients to get paid the way practicing lawyers or anyone in business does. In that sense, it’s a lot easier and simpler, and therefore less stressful. On the other hand, it’s a lot less adventure because dramatic things hardly ever happen here.
FP: How long have you been teaching?
CE: At the end of this calendar year I’ll have completed 20 full years of teaching.
FP: Would you go back to practicing law?
CE: One—I don’t know it anymore. I know a lot more law than I did when I was practicing. But what you know to practice is different from what you know to teach. One is theory and the other is practice and I don’t know the practical side anymore.
Two—the world still has more lawyers than it needs.
Three—I’m disillusioned with law generally. I have no respect for the institution anymore because we’re so over-lawyered and so over-lawed. There’s regulations and fine print everywhere. Even on the syllabus here at Babson there’s supposed to be fine print now about the rights of the students. I just consider that to be over-regulation. So I don’t want that increase in the amount of law that already exists.
FP: Why did you want to come back?
CE: I wanted to come back from the moment I got there, to be honest. I spent nine years in Seoul and it sucked from day one. It’s a developing country, it’s not American, it’s not happy and friendly, but the work was fascinating. I got onto the world stage through the backdoor. Here’s some little guy who graduated in the middle of his class from a mediocre grad school and suddenly I’m working on cases with the most famous lawyers in the United States. I learned how to be a good lawyer because I had really good colleagues to copy.
FP: Can you talk about an interesting case?
CE: No. There’s only two cases that have the best stories. The stories are so good that I only tell them now in my criminal law class. If I give them away no one would take my class. Got to take my class to hear the stories.
“You’re going to have to work hard in school and on the job. The only way to you can do that is if you love what you’re doing. Pick a subject that you love, and work really, really hard.”
FP: What part of law did you do?
CE: In Chicago I was a litigator and I was doing corporate and commercial cases. I was in court arguing every day. And when I went to Korea I did international business transactions. Both business law, but one in court and one in the office.
FP: Did you speak Korean?
CE: Yes, very bad Korean.
FP: Which one did you like more?
CE: Well, they were each good in their own way and I learned very different things from both. In Chicago I learned how a big city court system works and I learned about corruption, Chicago style. In Korea I learned how the world, as a whole works. So I like them both equally well.
FP: Have you always lived in the city?
CE: I’m just now starting to make my way out of the metro area. I’m hoping next year to be living up in New Hampshire because that’s really where I want to be. I figured, well, I’m old enough now, I’ve sort of paid my dues in life, maybe I’m entitled to do exactly what I want, which is to live really close to the mountains and the forest. That’s where I feel energized and refreshed and I feel right in the world the way you just can’t feel sitting in traffic.
FP: How about hobbies outside of work?
CE: I’m an incredibly dull and boring person. I used to have a lot of hobbies and at this point they’ve all dwindled and become forest work. I used to pursue other athletic activities. I used to do gymnastics and I used to practice judo as a boy. I used to have a coin collection, which is sort of lame. In terms of what I really enjoy doing at home, I love listening to music and I wish I could play a music or sing. I love that more than anything else.
FP: Advice to people who want to go into law school?
CE: It costs a lot of money to go to law school. If you can get into a good state law school, do that.People generally are not satisfied with law as a profession. If you want to be a lawyer, go be a small town lawyer. Get to know your clients and get to know them for a lifetime. Take care of them like a family doctor might and that could be a satisfying, wonderful career. If you want to be a small cog in a big machine and do paperwork and big deals, you probably going to end up hating it like everyone else and I’d say don’t waste your time going to law school.
FP: Any advice to freshman starting out college?
CE: I think a lot of students think it’s all about making connections and networking. That has some value but the advice I would give is to take the academics and classwork seriously. I see a fairly large percentage of the undergraduate population think that this is a social experience and the way to get ahead in business is by making valuable social contacts. My advice would be number one, that’s bullshit. Number two, this is the place to do hard, hard work. And if you can’t do it, you probably shouldn’t be in business anyways.
Now, I’m going to go further than that. I’ll give you the same advice I gave my daughter. I told her this: the middle class is disappearing and that’s a fact. And the world is going to consist of the well to do and those that are living lives of misery and poverty. And it’s important to me, dear daughter, that you’re in the better group and not the worse off group.
The way to do that is to work really, really hard. You’re going to have to work hard in school and on the job. The only way to you can do that is if you love what you’re doing. Pick a subject that you love, and work really, really hard. That was the mistake I made in college. If I could go back it would be to go back with my head on straight, which it was not when I was eighteen years old. And to work like a demon studying and being the very best student I could be.
That’s my one great big regret in life, it was that I was a screw-up for most of my time in college and law school. So my advice to students is that you have a precious opportunity and someone is paying a hell of a lot of money for you to be here, so don’t waste the opportunity by failing to study.