Rising Stars

Two new scholars in business law and criminal justice join the UW Law faculty.

The University of Wisconsin Law School has strengthened its faculty with two new hires, who join in a long tradition of excellence in research and teaching. Nate Atkinson and Stephanie Holmes Didwania began their appointments in summer 2021.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Nate and Stephanie to the University of Wisconsin Law School faculty,” says Dean Daniel Tokaji. “Both are rising stars in their fields. They add to our strengths in business law and criminal justice, bringing expertise that will inure to our students’ benefit, while reinforcing UW Law’s commitment to academic excellence, innovative teaching, and world-class scholarship.”

Nate Atkinson

headshot of Natie Atkinson
Nate Atkinson

Nate Atkinson is an assistant professor whose research focuses on the fields of corporate misconduct, contract law, and social choice theory. As an economist, Atkinson applies quantitative analysis to the study of the law.

Atkinson’s current research projects include examining how prosecutors’ concerns for collateral consequences affect their assessments of corporate penalties; estimating corporations’ profits from violating environmental laws; the behavioral effects of efforts clauses in contract design; and the design of better procedures for aggregating preferences.

What is your educational and professional background prior to joining UW Law School?

I earned my JD from Stanford Law School and PhD in business from Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Wisconsin Law School, I was a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Law and Economics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) in Zürich, Switzerland. I’ve previously taught at ETH Zürich, the University of Zürich, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and UCLA Law School.

Quick Facts About Professor Atkinson

Home State: Oregon
Teaching Areas: Contract law, business associations, and contract design

How did you get into your field of research?

My main area of research is on corporate misconduct. Much of the discourse on corporate misconduct focuses on bad actors within corporations. I am interested in the corporate form more broadly. My research focuses on the question of how corporations can profit from breaking the law, even after being caught and paying fines.

I got interested in this field after regularly reading accounts in the newspaper about firms paying small penalties following illegal actions. I wondered why we would expect corporations to follow the law when fines are so low. I have been working to quantify the extent to which corporations profit following lawbreaking so we can better design laws to bring the interests of corporations in line with those of society more broadly.

How does your work fit with the Wisconsin Idea, that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom?

In many areas, the law, or its application, is flawed. Well-trained lawyers can oftentimes appreciate these problems in ways others cannot. It is important that lawyers leave the University of Wisconsin Law School not only able to understand and apply existing law, but to recognize its deficiencies, so that they can contribute to improving the law so that it works for the benefit of society as a whole.

Describe a recent publication.

“If Not the Index Funds, Then Who?” was published in the Berkeley Business Law Journal. Large asset managers manage trillions of dollars of assets on behalf of tens of millions of clients. In this article, I take a close look at the underlying interests of those clients. Because asset managers’ clients are affected by corporate actions as customers, employees, creditors, taxpayers, and the general public, they are interested in more than the financial performance of the corporations in their portfolios. Instead of maximizing the profits of individual firms, an asset manager acting in their clients’ best interests should focus on improving the alignment between corporations and society more broadly. First, I show that asset managers can induce significant changes at portfolio companies and then put forward a set of actions that asset managers could implement that would significantly increase clients’ collective welfare. Finally, I show that there is little legal risk from a reorientation toward client welfare by asset managers.

Stephanie Holmes Didwania

headshot of stephanie holmes didwania
Stephanie Holmes Didwania

Stephanie Holmes Didwania joins the UW Law faculty as an assistant professor.

She is a quantitative empirical scholar who studies the criminal legal system. Didwania is primarily interested in understanding how prosecutors exercise discretion in criminal cases and in pretrial detention.

In addition to studying the criminal system, Didwania has also written on the economics of intellectual property and innovation in the music industry.

What is your educational and professional background prior to joining UW Law School?

I earned a JD from the University of Chicago Law School and PhD in managerial economics and strategy from Northwestern University.

Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Wisconsin Law School, I was an assistant professor at Temple University Beasley School of Law, a Harry A. Bigelow Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, and a law clerk to Judge Richard A. Paez of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

How did you get into your field of research?

My interest in criminal law and criminal procedure developed during law school when I worked in a criminal clinic representing defendants charged with felonies in federal court. This advocacy experience has long informed my research in many ways, especially by sparking my interests in examining prosecutorial behavior and in reforming federal pretrial detention. While my doctoral work taught me how to rigorously answer research questions using quantitative methods, my experience as a law student showed me the enormous human consequences of America’s criminal legal system.

Quick Facts About Professor Didwania

Home State: Illinois
Teaching Areas: Criminal law, criminal procedure, and empirical analysis

How does your work fit with the Wisconsin Idea, that education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom?

The criminal legal system is one of the most significant sites of inequality in American society today. As a teacher, it is important to me that my students understand how inequalities perpetuate both through legal doctrine itself as well as through external forces that operate outside of the black-letter law. Regardless of whether they go on to practice criminal law, I hope all of my students understand their critical responsibility as lawyers to help create a more equitable world.

Describe a recent publication.

“The Immediate Consequences of Federal Pretrial Detention” was published in the American Law and Economics Review in 2020. Unlike the cash-bail regimes that are prevalent in state courts,
federal courts rarely use money bail as a condition of pretrial release. Nonetheless, this article presents evidence that pretrial release influences case outcomes for federal defendants. Using case data spanning seventy-one federal district courts, the article suggests that pretrial release reduces a defendant’s sentence and increases the probability that they will receive a sentence below the recommended sentencing range. Pretrial release also appears to lessen the probability that a defendant will receive a mandatory minimum sentence when one is charged. The analysis exploits variation in magistrate judges’ propensities to release defendants pending trial, which allows magistrate judge leniency to serve as an instrumental variable for pretrial release. The article also provides suggestive evidence that pretrial release affects case outcomes through two channels: first, by giving defendants the opportunity to present mitigating evidence at sentencing and second, by making it easier for defendants to earn a sentencing reduction by providing assistance to the government.