Scholars Steven Davidoff, Kenneth Ayotte, Avani Sood to Join Faculty

By Andrew Cohen

With scholars Steven M. Davidoff, Avani Sood, and Kenneth Ayotte accepting offers to teach at Berkeley Law, the school has hired 50 full-time faculty members since Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. arrived in 2004. The new hires reflect one of the dean’s top priorities: faculty recruitment and retention to bolster the law school’s teaching ranks.

Sood, who just completed her Psychology Ph.D. at Princeton, will teach the Colloquium on Law and Psychology this fall and Criminal Law in the spring. Davidoff and Ayotte, both of whom specialize in business law, officially join the law school on July 1, 2014. Ayotte now teaches at Northwestern University School of Law, Davidoff teaches at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law.

Steven Davidoff
Steven Davidoff

“It’ll be a great opportunity to work with a fantastic collection of scholars and extraordinarily talented students,” Davidoff said. “There’s a deep well of knowledge and experience at Berkeley Law.”

For the past five years, Davidoff’s profile has risen sharply thanks to “Deal Professor,” his weekly New York Times column on mergers and acquisitions. He calls himself “a corporate law scholar by accident,” having begun his legal career in litigation and then shifting gears after “working with the deal people” on several cases.

Before entering academia, Davidoff practiced at Shearman & Sterling in New York and London and at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s London office. He represented global clients in acquisitions and sales of public and private companies, joint ventures, and both private equity and venture capital investments. He also earned a master’s degree in finance from the London Business School.

“That experience definitely informs my teaching,” said Davidoff, whose research focuses on mergers and acquisitions, deal theory, and jurisdictional competition, among other areas. “Corporate law isn’t case-driven. It’s really teaching students how to practice and how transactions work, and that was my everyday life for many years.”

Kenneth Ayotte
Kenneth Ayotte

Prior to becoming a Northwestern Law professor in 2007, Ayotte taught for five years in the finance department at Columbia Business School—where he won the school’s Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2005. His research and teaching interests center on corporate bankruptcy, corporate finance, and law and economics. Like Sood, he has a Ph.D. from Princeton (economics).

Ayotte is currently immersed in a project that studies “the effect of an important change in the Bankruptcy Code regarding the treatment of commercial leases.” His research aims to help scholars “understand how this change affected outcomes in large Chapter 11 cases.”

This past spring, Ayotte’s visit to Berkeley Law left him eager to return. “I was incredibly impressed by the collegiality of the faculty and their willingness to pursue cross-disciplinary research,” he said. “Of course, I was also impressed by the raw talent of the faculty and students.”

Avani Sood
Avani Sood

Sood, a 2003 Yale Law School graduate and former editor of the Yale Law Journal, was a litigator at Debevoise & Plimpton and clerked for Judge Kimba Wood in the Southern District of New York. She then worked for two years at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York, tackling human rights projects in India and Kenya for the center’s International Legal Program.

“During all these experiences, I was intrigued by the psychological dynamics of people’s interactions with systems of law,” Sood said. Her Ph.D. dissertation investigated the effects and legal implications of people’s tendency to inadvertently reason toward their desired outcomes—a phenomenon called “motivated cognition”—in legal decision making.

She also conducts experiments on the psychological motives underlying support for severe interrogation, and is studying the ethical cultures of large law firms. “The aim of my legal scholarship is to attach psychological insights to questions of law and invigorate legal debates through the contribution of data-driven analysis,” she said.

Sood looks forward to furthering that research at Berkeley Law. After meeting with a group of students in the spring, she found them “extraordinarily bright, well prepared, engaged, and thoughtful…. As for the faculty, I’m thrilled to be joining this remarkable group of teachers and scholars whose work has so many exciting interdisciplinary connections.”