Law Schools Incorporate Entrepreneurship

The successful startup culture is increasing demand for lawyers with nuanced skills.

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With the advent of Web 2.0, internet entrepreneurs and investors increasingly require specialized legal expertise. The size of this emerging market for legal services was underscored by last week's $1 billion purchase of Instagram by Facebook.

As tiny startups create life-changing products and are, in many cases, subsequently absorbed by tech behemoths like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, a new generation of lawyers with a nuanced understanding of the intricacies of law and entrepreneurship will need to step forward.

In addition, given the current challenging job market, lawyers themselves will need to learn to adopt a more entrepreneurial approach to their own work, taking command of their careers either by starting their own insurgent firms or quickly ascending within a firm by being entrepreneurial in bringing in new business.

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Many law schools are taking note of this rise in entrepreneurship and the unique legal needs of innovators by creating clinics and programs dedicated to training this new generation of lawyers. For example, the University of Pennsylvania Law School offers an Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic that "provides pro bono transactional legal services to Philadelphia area entrepreneurs and businesses," according to its website. Similarly, the Pepperdine University School of Law boasts the Geoffrey H. Palmer Center for Entrepreneurship and the Law, which offers specialized entrepreneurship classes to its law students.

The Duke University School of Law has taken the education of lawyers who specialize in entrepreneurship further. During a recent conversation with Bill Hoye, associate dean of admissions and student affairs at Duke Law, he shared with me that Duke is launching a J.D./LL.M. in Entrepreneurship and Law. (This joint degree program is so new that it is not even yet listed on the school's website.)

Duke has a long history of offering comprehensive dual degree programs, with 35 such programs currently available. At Duke Law, some 25 percent of students are enrolled in a dual degree program, pursuing degrees such as a J.D./M.B.A., J.D./M.D., or J.D./LL.M. in International and Comparative Law.

[Read more about dual law and business degrees.]

Three years ago, Duke created an LL.M. in Law and Entrepreneurship as a graduate program for lawyers who have already completed their J.D. Now, after significant student interest from the members of its J.D. program, Duke has decided to launch the dual degree program, starting with a select number of students this year. The J.D./LL.M. will follow the same structure as Duke's J.D./LL.M. program in International and Comparative Law, in which students earn both degrees in three years.

The first students in the J.D./LL.M. in Entrepreneurship and Law program will start their studies in just a couple months. In order to complete the J.D./LL.M. in three years, they will take Contracts and Civil Procedure during the summer before their 1L classmates arrive on campus. By completing these requirements now, the J.D./LL.M. students will have space to take the additional required entrepreneurship classes through the remainder of their law school career. 

In addition to all the regular J.D. requirements, students in the new dual program will take core courses from the LL.M. program, like Entrepreneurship and the Law, Advising the Entrepreneurial Client, Business Strategies for Lawyers, and Equity Valuation. During the summer after 1L year, students in the program will gain real-life experience during a practicum in a start-up company, venture capital firm, regulatory agency, or law firm with an entrepreneurial practice. The practicum allows Duke to leverage its location in the "Research Triangle," an entrepreneurial hotbed bordered by Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.

J.D./LL.M. students will also enroll in the Startup Ventures Clinic, which provides legal counsel to early-stage businesses and social entrepreneurship ventures on matters related to the startup process.

Since this is the first year of the new J.D./LL.M. program in Entrepreneurship and Law, Duke identified several volunteers from its incoming class to serve as pioneers for this program. Going forward, however, applicants will have the option to apply specifically for this program when submitting an initial application.

What joint degree programs are you interested in? Let me know in the comments, E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep. Stay tuned for more insider news and insights from admissions deans of top law schools in the coming weeks.