Michael Heller 2021

Michael A. Heller

  • Lawrence A. Wien Professor of Real Estate Law; Vice Dean for Curriculum

J.D., Stanford Law School, 1989
A.B., Harvard University, 1985

Areas of Specialty

Private Law Theory
Land Use
Law and Development

One of the preeminent scholars working on private law theory today, Michael Heller writes and teaches about who gets what and why. His writings range over innovation and entrepreneurship, corporate governance, biomedical research policy, real estate development, African-American and Native American land ownership, and post-socialist economic transition. In each area, Heller helps people see and cure ownership dilemmas no one had previously noticed. Follow him on social media: FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram.

In his book Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives, Heller and co-author James Salzman reveal the six simple stories everyone uses to claim everything. Owners choose the rule that steers us to do what they want. But we can pick a different rule. As Heller and Salzman show – in the spirited style of Freakonomics and Nudge – ownership is always up for grabs.

Heller’s influential and widely reviewed book, The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives reveals an ownership paradox that Heller discovered: creating too many property rights can be as costly as creating too few. In The Choice Theory of Contracts (downloadable intro at ssrn), Heller and coauthor Hanoch Dagan answer the question: what is freedom in “freedom of contract”? He is the editor of the two-volume Commons and Anticommons, and co-editor with Merritt Fox of Corporate Governance Lessons from Transition Economy Reforms. Heller has also published dozens of articles in all the leading law journals. For a sampling, see his ssrn page.

At Columbia, Heller is the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of Real Estate Law, and the Vice Dean for Curriculum. Previously, he also served as the Vice Dean for Intellectual Life. Before joining Columbia Law in 2002, Heller taught at the University of Michigan Law School where he received the L. Hart Wright Award for excellence in teaching. He has taught at NYU, UCLA, and Yale Law Schools and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Prior to entering academia, he worked at the World Bank on post-socialist legal transition. Heller served as a law clerk for Judge James Browning of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.



Selected Articles