January 5, 2012

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Professor read by millions

Steven Davidoff

Steven Davidoff

He swivels on a leather chair away from two computer monitors atop his L-shaped, dark-colored wood desk. A bookshelf stands perpendicular to the desk, inhabiting an entire wall of his office. The shelf nearest to the floor holds a collection of binders; their spines read: “DealBook.”

The New York native grasps a Starbucks cup with a tea tag hanging out its lid and gives a welcoming smile. He shares, “I’ve become a Midwesterner. I go back to New York and get annoyed by the crowds.”

Even though Professor Steven Davidoff only travels back to New York every month or so, his name settles on the pages of the city’s world-renowned newspaper, The New York Times.

Davidoff, popularly known as The Deal Professor by Times readers, writes a weekly column commenting on mergers and acquisitions for the Times’ DealBook, which publishes in the business section of the paper every Wednesday and appears online throughout the week.

Amid committing 10 to 20 hours in writing up to three columns per week, Davidoff is a law professor at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, where he specializes in teaching business law. He is the only professor with his own weekly newspaper column, according to Donald Tobin, associate dean for faculty and the Frank E. and Virginia H. Bazler Designated Professor in Business Law. Davidoff is also one of the first professors to contribute to the Times and its DealBook, said Jeffrey Cane, managing editor.

The DealBook, founded in 2001 by Andrew Ross Sorkin as a newsletter, now has more than a dozen reporters and freelancers.

Davidoff was a visiting professor at Moritz in the 2008-09 academic year and was hired as a full-time faculty member in the autumn of 2011. He said that Ohio State first came on his radar screen when he married a woman who lived in Columbus, now his wife of three and a half years, Idit. “The opportunity to come to Ohio State and become involved with the great university and its world-class faculty was a compelling opportunity beyond making my wife happy,” Davidoff said.

“Most of my time is spent being a law professor – writing academically and teaching. In the remaining time I write from home, mostly on weekends or at nights,” Davidoff said. “The New York Times is my hobby, so to speak.”

Davidoff pursued a professorial career after practicing for nine years as a corporate attorney in New York and London for the firms of Shearman & Sterling LLP and Freshfields Bruckaus Deringer LLP.

While in London, he took two years off from practicing and decided to do “what everyone dreams of doing, which is I just quit,” he said. Davidoff later earned a degree in finance from the London Business School.

“I’d always been interested in academics, studying the law, teaching, and writing,” he said. “I just thought it was time to give it a whirl.”

He first joined the law faculty at Wayne State University in Michigan, where he started blogging about deals on the website, M & A Law Prof Blog, during the financial crisis in 2007.

Davidoff’s blog drew the attention of media outlets that frequently began quoting from it. Around Thanksgiving in 2007, a year after the DealBook switched from a newsletter to an online edition, Sorkin expressed how Davidoff caught his attention as well.

Davidoff recalled, “He called me and said, ‘Well everyone’s reading you. Do you want to come over and do what you’re doing for The Times?’ ” Sorkin then dubbed Davidoff “The Deal Professor.”

“I never thought about it (blogging) in terms of money. It was a pleasant surprise. It was a great opportunity I never thought could happen.”

Cane said Davidoff “brings a great knowledge and understanding of how corporate law can impact deals. He’s able to write in a way that can be very compelling and easy for the reader to understand.”

He recalled Davidoff commenting on a “long takeover battle between two industrial gas companies, Air Products and Air Gas.” Cane said Davidoff’s expertise on the complicated takeover was “invaluable” to the DealBook. “If we didn’t have him, I don’t think any of us here could have got our head around it.”

Since writing for The Times, Davidoff also published a book in 2009, Gods at War: Shotgun Takeovers, Government by Deal, and the Private Equity Implosion. The book “shows what goes on behind the curtain with deal-making in the real world,” Davidoff said.

Cane said Davidoff seems to take on both jobs with “very good humor.” He joked, “I never get phone calls from him freaking out” about assignments.

Tobin commented on Davidoff’s role:

“As part of what we view as the land grant mission of the university, but also one of our big things at Moritz, is ‘scholarship that makes the difference,’ this idea of how you communicate what you’re doing with the rest of the world.”

Tobin said, “I do think that Professor Davidoff’s work for The New York Times does get more exposure to him, to his ideas, and to Ohio State. When you have great people, your institution is thought of more highly.”

Davidoff said he doubts he will become a full-fledge journalist or pick between working as a professor or columnist in the future because he enjoys doing both, especially teaching and dealing with students.

“I really enjoy it. I think this is a fantastic institution and law school. … It’s everything I want,” he said of Moritz.

“Writing for The Times as an academic is really the best of both worlds because it allows me to apply what I learn from academia and put it in a paper that reaches millions of people every day.”

This article was written by Sarah Pfledderer.

SideBar is a monthly electronic newsletter for Moritz College of Law alumni. Questions regarding this publication should be directed to moritzlawnews@osu.edu.