These students are learning corporate law through TV hit 'Succession'

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REUTERS/Toby Melville

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  • University of Virginia class is co-taught by a Freshfields attorney who consults on the series
  • Students learn about mergers and other corporate topics from Roy family drama

(Reuters) - An aging billionaire who heads a media empire is experiencing serious health problems.

Is he legally bound to disclose that to his company's shareholders?

The scenario should sound familiar to viewers of “Succession,” the popular HBO series that follows fictional media baron Logan Roy and his four children as they vie to take over the family business. It’s also one of the plot points students dissected in a new class at the University of Virginia School of Law that uses the show to teach elements of corporate law.

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The class – The Corporate Law of HBO’s “Succession” — is a short one-credit course offered before the regular spring term begins next week. It extends a trend of schools using pop culture hits like "The Wire,” “Making a Murderer” and even “Battlestar Galactica” to teach law and legal ethics.

The idea emerged last summer when Virginia law professor Cathy Hwang had lunch with Peter Lyon, a corporate and M&A lawyer at law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer who teaches a class at the school. Lyon mentioned that he was serving as a consultant on the legal aspects of the show’s third season.

“It was like this light bulb moment when we said, ‘We should teach a short course on “Succession!’” Hwang said in an interview. “We want students to see how these issues shake out in real life." (Lyon declined to comment on the class and his work on the series.)

Students who managed to secure a seat in the class were required to watch the show and assigned reading on topics that crop up in the series, such as mergers, takeovers and corporate bylaws.

In the case of Logan Roy’s health problems, students researched real-world parallels involving Apple Inc co-founder Steve Jobs and former Viacom Inc chairman Sumner Redstone. They also heard from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner and Virginia Law alumna Susan Muck, who counsels companies on disclosure matters.

Hwang said she sometimes has M&A students follow an actual corporate merger over the course of a semester, but in this case using a television show was more compelling.

"Succession is unusual as a corporate law show, because it’s actually pretty accurate,” she said.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com