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From boardroom to courtroom to classroom

Business law instructor shares his real-world experiences with students

BOONE—Attorney Charles Oswald often can’t disclose case details to students in his business law and ethics classes at Appalachian State University because of confidentiality restrictions, but his experiences help equip students for challenges they might face in their business careers.

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Oswald has been teaching undergraduate and graduate courses part time in Appalachian’s Walker College of Business since 2008. He maintains a law practice, CEO Law, in Hickory. The practice specializes in legal and business issues faced by CEOs who operate in a global marketplace, as well as issues in entertainment and other industries.

Oswald doesn’t expect his students to become legal experts with the ability to cite law cases, but he wants them to think critically and analytically like lawyers do.

“As they go through life and they are engaging in transactions, I hope they will recall what we discuss in class, including Supreme Court and other court cases, as well as personal business experiences I share with them, and use that knowledge when they encounter any red flags that might arise related to business practices. That’s the best you can hope for,” he said.

He encourages his students to use different approaches when considering legal and ethical issues in business, including thinking outside their individual “silo.”

“We tend to be drawn to those who think like we think and believe what we believe. It’s comfortable, but one of the worst approaches to follow,” he said of the practice that tends to isolate a person from viewpoints that challenge “prevailing orthodoxies in that particular silo.”

Oswald gives his students tools to first, “think analytically or, as some would call it, like a lawyer,” by following the juridical or IRAC method of critical thinking and analysis. IRAC stands for issue, rules, application and conclusion. “I teach that way of thinking because so much of business law is rules driven,” Oswald said.

Beyond that, however, is another approach that Oswald calls analogical thinking, or thinking by analogy, “where when you are faced with an issue, with making a decision, or pondering an issue you are trying to understand, you draw parallels to something you know from your past,” he said. “The more experiences you have to draw from, the richer your bank of experience, the greater the likelihood of reaching, and validating, answers.”

When students discuss legal issues, Oswald has them follow the juridical and the analogical approaches, supplementing classroom discussions with real-life examples from his 30-plus year career as an international business executive and attorney.

Oswald recently represented James Best in a civil suit filed against Warner Bros. Best played Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane in the television series “The Dukes of Hazzard.” According to the Charlotte Observer, the civil suit sought royalties from the sale of merchandise that featured Best’s image as the character he portrayed in the hit series from 1979-1985.

A case such as the Best civil lawsuit can help students understand the differing viewpoints regarding contracts that plaintiffs and defendants can bring to a case.

Oswald’s courses on MBA law and ethics address the “rough and tumble” of doing business in a global marketplace and include, among other things, issues such as financial mismanagement, antitrust, price fixing, insider trading, bribery and, of course, outright fraud.

“We all operate, as buyers and seller of goods and services, in an environment subject to business law every day,” Oswald said. “Beyond that, however, there are certain ‘red flags’ which, when recognized, can help guide our graduates through the kinds of circumstances they are almost ensured of encountering at any level of management in business.”