The two sets of students took part this past fall in a new pilot course called Advising the Business Planner. While the Carroll School has offered a similar course called Business Planning for several years, this marked the first year that law students have been brought in to consider legal issues.
Twenty teams were assigned to devise their own business plans, with each team represented by third-year law students. The law students wrote and presented a 10-page memorandum advising the Carroll School students of legal issues surrounding their proposals, much as they would in the real world. The law students met with the business school teams face to face, just as lawyers and clients would, to discuss the proposals.
The business students then incorporated the law students' recommendations into their final plan, which was presented before a panel of venture capitalists, attorneys, faculty members, executives and student peers at a business plan competition.
"Business school students don't tend to think about the legal aspects of starting or refining a company's business plan as much as they should," said Adj. Lect. Gregory Stoller (CSOM), who developed the pilot course with Prof. Alfred Yen (Law). "Liability issues, copyright, legal jurisdiction for example, are rarely discussed, or are left on the backburner for the lawyers to 'figure out.' But to law students, these are basic questions that need to be addressed right from the beginning."
Likewise, says Yen, law students don't always deal with real companies and real business problems and don't necessarily get to experience the teamwork approach to problem-solving in the classroom the way business students do. "In law school, students' grades are mostly based upon their own performance, while for business students it's also based on the collective efforts of their entire team. It's a different way of learning."
Another feature of the course involved creating business plans for actual companies such as Mitsubishi, and for other outside entrepreneurs who are intent upon starting up their own businesses.
"We're encouraging the law students to treat the Carroll School teams as real clients, as opposed to an academic exercise," Yen said. "It's a combination of listening, researching and making thoughtful recommendations."
Advising the Business Planner is part of a larger, recently launched initiative that aims to find innovative ways for law students and business students to learn from each other. Partly a response to the dramatic increase in the numbers of students interested in the University's dual JD-MBA degree program, the Emerging Enterprises Program at BC Law also offers JD students the option of learning more about the business world, without actually enrolling as dual degree candidates.
More than 30 courses are currently offered under the category of Emerging Enterprises, all but one of them through the Law School, although administrators say that is likely to change in the future. One course being considered at the Carroll School is what Stoller thinks may be the first "transactional based course" in the country involving law and business school students.
Modeled after a clinical workshop, the goal of the new course would be to teach students practical skills in the management of new businesses or existing companies, and how lawyers can best add value to their clients. During the semester, student teams would negotiate against one another in the accomplishment of specific goals. Topics would include obtaining mortgage financing, mergers and acquisitions, obtaining venture capital financing, and restructuring agreements that are in default.
While Stoller emphasizes that the course is only in the early planning stages, he is excited about the possibilities. "We're breaking new ground here," he said. "Based on our preliminary research, there are no universities nationwide currently offering anything remotely close to this concept. Early feedback from law and business students indicate it could be very popular, and practitioners in both industries said it would make graduates that much better prepared for their first jobs."
-Law School Communications Manager Nathaniel Kenyon
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