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J.S. Nelson

Professor of Law



Professor Nelson was on leave to teach at Harvard Business School over the 2021-22 academic year, and is at Harvard Law School this year. She joined the Villanova Law School faculty in 2017, and she holds a courtesy appointment in the Management & Operations Department of Villanova Business School.

A scholar, legal consultant, and expert in business ethics, Professor Nelson has a deep, diverse background bridging law and business school. Her work explores the intersection of corporate law, white collar crime, and compliance. She concentrates on the way that legal rules shape ethical behavior within business organizations and the impact of different frameworks on large-scale corporate wrongdoing.

Professor Nelson’s research has both public and academic impact. Professor Nelson is a frequent media commentator, appearing on venues such as The Today Show and NBC News Now. Her scholarship has been published in both legal and business journals, including the Harvard Law Review, Cornell Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, Cardozo Law Review, U.C. Davis Law Review, Berkeley Business Law Journal, Journal of Management Inquiry, Journal of Legal Studies in Business, and the Academy of Management Learning and Education journal. She has received numerous awards for her work from the Academy of Legal Studies in Business, including its 2017 Distinguished Proceedings Paper and Holmes-Cardozo awards, 2016 Ralph Bunche prize for Outstanding International Paper, and its 2015 Outstanding Proceedings award. In 2022, she again won the Ralph Bunche Outstanding International Paper Award.

Her book, co-authored with the late Lynn Stout, and published by the Oxford University Press, is Business Ethics: What Everyone Needs to Know. Even before publication, the book was nominated for the Next Big Idea Club (curated by Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, Susan Cain, and Daniel Pink). The book has been called a “modern classic,” and it is available in a wide variety of formats.

At Villanova, Professor Nelson worked collaboratively with two of the Law School’s Centers of Excellence—the John F. Scarpa Center for Entrepreneurship and Law; and the David F. and Constance B. Girard-diCarlo Center for Ethics, Integrity, and Compliance—to advance legal scholarship and teaching that lie at the intersection of ethics and business. Professor Nelson is one of the conveners of ComplianceNet, and she serves on the Steering Committee for its international network of scholars. She has served since 2015 as a Senior Fellow at the Carol and Lawrence Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research, within The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Nelson came to Villanova from being an advisor in the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, within Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Before becoming the first tenure-track appointment in a U.S. law school specifically to teach business ethics and to develop law-school curricula around the subject, Professor Nelson spent nearly ten years teaching in business schools. In addition to her roles at Penn and Stanford, Professor Nelson previously taught at the Drucker School at Claremont Graduate University, the Mihaylo School at Cal State Fullerton, and she was a faculty mentor at the Haas Business School of the University of California at Berkeley.

Prior to her work in academia, Professor Nelson served as staff counsel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and she clerked for the Honorable David M. Ebel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and the Honorable William H. Yohn, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She also worked as a deputy district attorney and as a business litigator in Denver, Colorado. Nelson is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where she was the Supreme Court Co-Chair of the Harvard Law Review. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with honors and distinction in the major from Yale University.

Practice Experience

  • Judicial clerk for the Honorable William H. Yohn, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
  • Judicial clerk for the Honorable David M. Ebel, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
  • Staff Counsel, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
  • Deputy District Attorney, Denver District Attorney's Office
  • Business Litigator, firm formerly known as Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber, P.C.
  • Started teaching in business and other schools from 2008

Professional Writing Awards:

  • Holmes-Cardozo Award, Acad. of Legal Studies in Business (2017)
  • Distinguished Proceedings Award, Acad. of Legal Studies in Business (2017)
  • Ralph Bunche Outstanding Int’l Paper Award, Acad. of Legal Studies in Business (2016)
  • Outstanding Proceedings Award, Acad. of Legal Studies in Business (2015)
  • Outstanding Paper, Pacific Southwest Acad. of Legal Studies in Business (2014)
  • Best Paper Award, Western Acad. of Legal Studies in Business (2014 & 2016)
  • Distinguished Proceedings Paper, Acad. of Legal Studies in Business (2013)


Professor JS Nelson

Office: Rm 244, John F. Scarpa Hall
Phone: 610-519-6838
Fax: 610-519-6837


Courses and Seminars

  • Business Ethics
  • Business Organizations
  • Corporate and White Collar Crime
  • Law & Management


  • Harvard Law School, JD 
    (Supreme Court Co-Chair, Harvard Law Review; John E. Thayer University Prize for Most Meritorious Scholar; Irving R. Kaufman Public Service Fellowship; Samuel J. Heyman Fellowship Prize for Public Interest Work)
  • Yale University, BA 
    (honors and distinction in the major; Clement Prize for Best Senior Thesis on American Topic; Frank M. Patterson Prize for Research in Political Science; Block Fellowship for Research in Media and Government; Hugh P. Brady Prize for Outstanding Student from the Northwest)