Faculty Spotlight: Prof. Tonia Hap Murphy

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

Photo of Professor Tonia Hap Murphy

Tonia Hap Murphy, who earned an undergraduate degree in English at the University of Notre Dame and a law degree at the University of Michigan, figures her stint with Eli Lilly in Indianapolis provided valuable background for her work with ESTEEM students. Murphy, who came to Notre Dame in 1992, teaches business law to undergraduates in the Mendoza College of Business and has taught in ESTEEM since the program began.

“The thing that most prepared me to teach in the ESTEEM program is my work at Eli Lilly,” she says. “I handled environmental law issues for them and had an opportunity to work a lot with the environmental engineers and other scientists at the company. That job was very valuable to me. I saw how business people need to know about the law to make good business decisions. I saw how scientists work. Coming from a background in liberal arts and law, it was valuable to work with engineers and scientists who encounter problems from a different perspective.

“It was interesting to see in a big company like Eli Lilly how teams coming from different parts of the company make the decisions. You’d have the lawyers and the business people and the scientists and researchers and engineers coming together to make decisions. My students in ESTEEM are going to be part of those kinds of environments.” 

Murphy teaches a course that spends about half the time on intellectual property such as patents, trade secrets, and trademarks, and half on business organizations, contract law, covenants not to compete, and product liability. She recently wrote an article, “Covenants not to compete in employment contracts: Worth a closer look in the classroom,” that has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Legal Studies Education.

“When I was choosing topics for the course, I tried to pick topics that are going to be relevant as these students contemplate starting a business, but even those who become employees are still going to have to understand these topics,” she says. “I think law is a practical topic for any business person or any citizen, really.”

The course provides valuable material for the students’ capstone theses.

“I think graduate students in general tend to be more active in class, have more questions, are more willing to ask – ‘why do you say that? why is the law that way?” Murphy says. “I get in the ESTEEM program a lot of questions because they have these thesis projects – they have the context to think about some of the laws we are talking about. They have good questions on intellectual property protections because they’ve got a real problem that calls for them to make some decisions or begin to apply the law. I have them write a paper on how the law applies to their thesis project, and what sort of business organization they would choose and why, and what kind of product liability concerns they may foresee. A lot of that, I know, translates into their thesis that they write at the end.”