Meet Prof. Joe McGrath, Visiting Faculty Member From Dublin

February 16, 2019

Joining the faculty as a visiting professor this semester is Joe McGrath, a lecturer/ assistant professor at University College Dublin’s Sutherland School of Law. McGrath has researched and written extensively on white-collar crime, and his work has been published in books, journals, and national newspapers. In addition to white collar crime, he lectures on financial regulation and corporate governance.

What courses are you teaching while you are with the University of Minnesota Law School?

I’m currently teaching International Business Transactions and Financial Regulation. With regard to Financial Regulation, I teach that subject with Niel Willardson, general counsel to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. My favorite part of the experience has been teaching alongside the committed faculty at the Law School, and engaging in debate with the fantastic students in my classes. These experiences continue to remind me that teaching is a great privilege.

What motivated you to take on the role of a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota Law School? What are you hoping to get out of your experience here?

The law schools at the University of Minnesota and University College Dublin are international exchange partners and I was excited to support and deepen this partnership. In addition, my research increasingly examines issues related to the prosecution and punishment of U.S. federal white-collar crimes so researching here has allowed me to further explore these issues and hone my work. I’m excited to spend a semester here with a community of leading scholars engaged in exceptional research.

You have authored two books on white-collar crime in Ireland. Speaking generally, what are some of the similarities and differences to how white-collar crime might be treated in Ireland vs. the United States?

There are many similarities. Politicians in both jurisdictions embraced zero-tolerance, tough-on white-collar-crime rhetoric after the crash. Both jurisdictions have adopted instrumental and expressive approaches to white-collar criminality, although legal responses to white-collar crime tend to more complex and nuanced than political rhetoric suggests. The greatest difference, however, is that the United States has a much longer history of being more sensitive and attuned to the economic harms caused by white-collar criminality. In Ireland, we have only recently become more aware of the systemic economic harm that these kinds of crimes can pose to the state. Our architecture of corporate enforcement is really just catching up with these new ways of thinking.

You also specialize in corporate governance. What are some of the “hot” corporate governance issues in Ireland and in the E.U.?

There are so many to choose from! If I had to choose one area of corporate governance that is of significant interest at the moment, it is the role and importance of culture in organisations. It is sometimes said that culture is what happens when no one is looking. It’s probably more accurate to say that there is a process of communication, occurring at both individual and organisational levels, through which motivations, drives and rationalisations are shared in corporations and institutions. Scholars are increasingly asking how the culture of an organisation can give rise to bad or irresponsible conduct and how do we prevent this? How does the law affect or support ethical decision-making and behaviour? While much American scholarship supports the view that deterrence-orientated strategies are valuable because people are rational decision-makers who weigh the costs and burdens of their decisions, there is emerging European research that questions this view. Sanctions have a limited effect in curbing corporate misbehaviour; it is suggested that people are less likely to break the law when it is fairly applied and maps on to the values systems of those who are required to comply with it.

Your research includes an empirical analysis of race gender status and punishment for federal white-collar crimes in the United States. Could you discuss a little bit about that work?

This is an exciting project. I’ve teamed up with Dr. Deirdre Healy at UCD to analyze data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on the prosecution, conviction, acquittal and dismissal rates for a variety of U.S. federal white-collar crimes. Moreover, when combined with other data, we will test some traditionally held assumptions about white-collar criminals. By contrast to the common criminal, it’s generally assumed that the white-collar criminal is middle-aged (at least), white, usually male, well-educated, and often without previous criminal convictions. This data will test the existing assumptions about the race, gender, and status of those persons prosecuted for white-collar criminality.

Any concerns about being here in Minnesota where the winter weather is a tad chillier than it is in Dublin?

The last month certainly involved a dip in temperature for me. Ireland isn’t exactly known for its good weather so I never thought I’d be longing for an Irish winter! I can safely say, however, that this is the first time I’ve experienced a “polar vortex”, like we had last week. Back in Ireland, “polar vortex” is a type of beer! In truth, the weather hasn’t affected me too much, especially now that I’ve now gotten a bit more practice driving in the snowy, icy conditions! The warmth and friendliness of the people here more than makes up for the cold weather.

Prof. Joe McGrath
Visiting Prof. Joe McGrath is a lecturer/ assistant professor at University College Dublin's Sutherland School of Law

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