Real world, real skills

Professor James Hagy encourages students to call on their own experiences to solve client problems

James Hagy is a distinguished lecturer in residence at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He founded and directs the Rooftops Project, which focuses on the role of real estate in the operations, financial performance, and achievement of mission by not-for-profit organizations. A sought-after speaker, Hagy regularly presents to professional audiences about corporate real estate strategy and international business. At Loyola, he teaches Advanced Legal Writing for Business Practice, Advising Not-for-Profit Organizations, and Business Practice Transactional Skills.

What excites you most as a Loyola instructor?

Everything I teach is real-world based. Classes are deliberately designed so there are no single right answers to most things, and as a result, students get to draw on their own instincts and life experience, while also using the skills they’ve developed in identifying issues and problem solving. In my courses we can celebrate each answer from each student and congratulate them on envisioning a future where they have a unique perspective on the problems.

It’s about curiosity and engagement. Every student can bring that to the classroom. While every student may not be the top writer or the top scorer in doctrinal courses, to me the ideal environment for our students is to take each student where they are and progress them against their own starting point to succeed.

“Loyola is visibly unique in terms of how much people care about each other.”

In 2010, you founded the Rooftops Project, which focuses on the role of real estate in the operations, financial performance, and achievement of mission by not-for-profit organizations. How are Loyola students involved with this?

The Rooftops Project offers conferences, programs, and resources to not-for-profit organizations across all sizes and mission types, from health care, higher education, and the visual and performing arts, to social services and places of worship across all denominations. Over the past seven years, more than 160 Loyola law students have taken the course and been involved in our programming and outreach to the not-for-profit community in Chicago and beyond.

In the classroom, our students learn and explore how, in some ways, not-for-profit organizations operate and behave just like for-profit businesses. They employ people, they occupy space, they procure (and sometimes offer) goods and services, they manage risks. But in other ways they are very different, of course, including how they are formed (as public charities), how they are governed (typically by volunteers), how they are staffed (sometimes very leanly, often also largely by volunteers), how they make decisions (often through multiple structures from a board of trustees to voting members), how they are taxed (or exempt from tax), and who their stakeholders are (clients or participants served, members, staff and volunteers, the public at large).

Students interview and engage with not-for-profit leaders across mission types to explore these differences. They address special topics relevant to the sector and present their recommendations to a mock board of trustees of a not-for-profit organization of their chosen mission type. They host and facilitate with me an annual spring conference and a summer workshop providing leading speakers in the field and direct content to the not-for-profit community.

You’ve been interested in magic since you were a child, and you performed as a magician for many years. You’ve also written about the topic, some of which is relevant to lawyers in the professional world. Tell us about it.

I put myself through school by performing. Since then, for more than fifty years, I have written, published, and spoken extensively about 19th-century magicians and performance theory. I’m writing a series right now about skills anyone can use in real life, which was influenced by being a performing magician. As a magician, you’ve got to make eye contact, be audible, and hopefully be entertaining … while also hiding the rabbit! It was a great way to start thinking about engaging with other people, both in formal and informal settings. It’s really all about presenting yourself—whether it’s to one other person by Zoom or whether it’s 2,000 people in an auditorium.

What makes Loyola special?

Beyond a terrific faculty, a great and substantive curriculum, and specialized centers, Loyola is visibly unique in terms of how much people care about each other—that’s true across the organization. It’s about a tradition of doing that. And that’s about leadership, starting with the truly remarkable deans and from faculty and staff to students: People are genuinely listening. Universities tend to be places where people go to study in their field, in their own little world, but at Loyola, people really take interest in, care about, and support each other.

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