May: Meet Lisa J. Reed

At age 29, I had what I think of as an early midlife crisis. I was practicing law and had just had my first child. I was becoming increasingly disgruntled (and disillusioned) about the business of practicing law and the expectations that I would be at the office 7 days a week, whether or not there was a pressing reason for me to be there. So, my husband encouraged me to do some soul searching and think about what I wanted to do rather than continue to go down a standard path, viewing my life as a long resume. It was then that I began approaching my life with a more entrepreneurial mindset. I became more of a risk taker to take advantage of and create opportunities for me to pursue a vocation more in line with my passions and strengths. Now, as the associate dean for undergraduate programs in the Pamplin School of Business at the University of Portland and as a business law and global entrepreneurship professor, I have found the perfect fit for me.

When I did my soul searching about what was important to me, I quickly gravitated toward education, the world that had surrounded me my entire life. Three of my grandparents and both of my parents were educators. I vividly remember them discussing education issues at home with each other and with their friends and colleagues. Not only did they not separate their professional and personal lives, they seemed to thrive on their frequent conversations relating to academia. My exposure to my parents and grandparents and their fervor for what they did had a profound impact on my perception of how one should spend one’s life.

Growing up in Oklahoma in the 1960s and 70s, I was lucky to have parents who valued higher education and imbued me with the belief that I could accomplish whatever I decided to pursue. I also had strong female role models, including a state legislator who was an attorney, so law seemed like a great career choice for a female who wanted to have a vibrant career.

In college I majored in Letters (a combination of history, literature, philosophy, French and Latin) because I wanted a strong liberal arts background. I never questioned that I would go to graduate school, and until my senior year of college, I had assumed I would go to law school, never considering other options. When I was a senior and taking a Latin American literature course, my professor attached a reprint of one of her academic articles when she returned my paper. She had inscribed the reprint with, “To Lisa, who will someday write similar texts.” I was flattered by her comments and considered pursuing a PhD in History (my passion over literature) instead of going to law school, but for a variety of reasons ultimately decided to stick with law school. However, my professor’s words struck a chord in me and have stayed with me since, even informing my career change from practicing law to a career in academia.

In law school I gravitated toward business type classes rather than trial practice classes, so I joined the business section of a North Carolina law firm. I loved the intellectual challenges of practicing law and for a time, the satisfaction of crafting estate plans and contracts, and negotiating deals to accomplish my clients’ goals. However, I increasingly grew weary of billing my life in six minute increments. I love to work hard to do important work, but not just for the sake of generating billable hours.

My career path in academia has been fairly unorthodox. After leaving private practice, I taught legal analysis and writing at Wake Forest Law School and business law at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. These opportunities were transformative for me. I could combine my love of teaching with my interest and experience in the legal issues facing businesses.

We moved to Portland when my husband finished his PhD in English and got a job at the University of Portland. I began at UP teaching business law as an adjunct, later transitioning to a tenure track position and then earning tenure and promotion to associate professor. When I became a tenure track professor, I began doing scholarly research, primarily in the area of employment law, and thus finally wrote “similar texts” as my college professor had predicted I would (albeit not in literature). But, I had finally become an academic and that feels like home to me.

In 1998, my husband and I were asked to teach in the University’s first summer study abroad program in Salzburg, Austria. Another faculty couple had been asked first, but declined. Even though we had two very young children (sons ages 2 and 6), we jumped at the chance to have this adventure, which proved to be another transformative opportunity. Since that summer, both of us have taught abroad several times (dragging our sons along with us until they graduated from high school) and have looked for other opportunities that incorporate international travel components into academic programs.

One of these other opportunities has been through UP’s Entrepreneur Scholars’ program, created by Robin Anderson, the Franz Chair of Entrepreneurship and now also the Dean of the Pamplin School of Business. The Entrepreneur Scholars program is an interdisciplinary program that includes a course in Global Entrepreneurship, during which students participate in an international business trip. I currently take the primary teaching role in this course. I love working with these entrepreneurially minded students and helping them create valuable learning opportunities, such as business meetings in an international setting like Dubai or Shanghai. I am in awe of their willingness to step out of their comfort zones to learn as much as possible about creating their ventures and international entrepreneurship.

Four years ago Dr. Anderson asked me to be his Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs. Many of my colleagues wonder why in the world I love this job. In some respects, I am like the Vice Principal. Many of the students with whom I work are in moments of crisis that are compromising their academic goals and success. They may be confronting serious emotional health issues or may have plagiarized a paper or cheated on an exam. I view my work with these students as an extension of my role as an educator. I am happy that I can sometimes play a pivotal role in helping students progress toward a degree and in their process of discernment and maturation.

After I announced my departure to my law firm, several partners of the firm dropped by my office and confided to me that they wished they had done the same thing before it became “too late.” Instead, they felt tied to the career they had chosen which had provided ample financial reward to support their family’s affluent lifestyle, but had not fulfilled them in other ways.

I am extremely lucky to be doing work that I love and think is important. I’m also convinced that I wouldn’t be doing this work if I hadn’t begun approaching life more entrepreneurially and taking risks to look for and create opportunities for a meaningful life.


Lisa J. Reed, J.D., is an Associate Professor and the Associate Dean of the Pamplin School of Business. Professor Reed earned her law degree from Duke University Law School and practiced law in Greensboro, North Carolina, specializing in general business and estate planning. At the University of Portland, she has taught business law in the graduate and undergraduate programs, leadership skills and global entrepreneurship in the undergraduate program, and corporate social responsibility at the graduate level. She has also taught business law at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and legal writing and analysis at Wake Forest Law School in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon. Professor Reed has also conducted a graduate seminar at Escuelo de Negocios in Madrid, Spain, titled, “Legal Issues Affecting Entrepreneurial Activities in the U.S. by E.U. Citizens.” Professor Reed’s primary areas of research interest are employment law and social responsibility.

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