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By Eller College

Through a unique partnership with the James E. Rogers College of Law — the Business/Law Exchange™ — all McGuire Entrepreneurship Programteams work with law students to investigate the myriad legal issues surrounding their new ventures. New to the year-end showcase event and business plan competition this year, law students presented on issues in entrepreneurship and law that they encountered over the year-long experience, as well as specific challenges they faced with this year’s venture teams.

eller buzz checked in with Business/Law Exchange (BLX) co-director Sherry Hoskinson before the March 23 showcase for more information on the expanding partnership.

eller buzz: Sherry, I know you’ve added some new elements to the Year-End Celebration specific to BLX this year. What are some of the new things people will see?

Sherry Hoskinson: One new feature is that we’ve selected three representatives from the Business/Law Exchange program to give a general presentation in the afternoon, speaking to predominant issues in entrepreneurship and law, the value they contribute to the process and program, and some of the unique challenges they faced with this year’s ventures. It’s a chance for them to showcase the vast and deep variety of their work in these engagements.

eller buzz: Will the law student teams for each venture have a chance to present?

SH: The teams for the finalist ventures will present in the afternoon. In the morning, each venture team has three minutes to present its business.

Then the three to five teams that most capture the interest of our judges are invited back for questions and answers in the afternoon — still just ten minutes because, again, our goal is create an accurate experience of what it’s like to pitch innovation and a new business concept, not just what that looks like in an ideal, scripted academic world.

eller buzz: And how are the law students involved in that part of the day?

SH: In two ways. First — again, very much real-world — each venture’s team of law students will be standing ready at their side as they field questions, and the management team can always defer to their legal advisors to address a question that may be more appropriate for them to answer.

Second, after the ten minutes of questions for the management team, each team of law students will have two minutes to address the most salient legal issues for that venture.

eller buzz: Why these changes?

SH: It comes back to that fundamental goal that guides the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program: to give our students not just entrepreneurship education but experience of applying that knowledge in a very real process.

Law is a huge part of that equation, so it’s important for us to reflect that in the program and give students on both sides — from the Eller College and McGuire Center as well as the Rogers College of Law — a deeper and more real experience.

In fact, a group of us were discussing this need a while back and it was actually Karl Eller who said something to the effect of, “It doesn’t matter how good your idea for a new venture is — it’s not going anywhere without a good lawyer.”

eller buzz: What do you think the law students get from the experience?

SH: Really this is unlike anything else they’ll do. The case study teaching method comes close in that it puts students in the roles of lawyers, but those are pre-determined cases with pre-created, static case materials.
In the Business/Law Exchange, it’s entirely dynamic.

None of us knows from one minute to the next what might come up or where these ventures will go over the course of the year. And at the year-end event, nobody knows the questions our judges will ask or what direction that drilling will take.

In fact, at the start of the day, the law students don’t even know if they’ll have to present that afternoon. Only a few teams are invited back for Q&A, but all teams need to be prepared to face that incisive questioning in the afternoon.

eller buzz: Basically, they have to be ready for anything.

Right — this is real-time and unpredictable. And that’s part of it. But also, unlike the case study teaching method or other educational program, the Business/Law Exchange presents our law students the challenge of working with clients and, conversely, for our entrepreneurship students, the experience of what it’s like to work with legal counsel.

For both sides, it’s again that hands-on, practical, experiential learning, in this case in communications, negotiations, managing expectations, and the very real work of reconciling schedules and objectives and motivations. Just like in the real world, those aren’t always in sync here. In fact, often they aren’t in sync. All of these students are juggling other classes, other programs and projects, work, etc.

So really, our law students come out of this experience uniquely trained not just in the legal scholarship around innovation and business but also in the skills that are critical for building and maintaining client relations.

eller buzz: And then just to ratchet things up, you invite everyone to watch!

SH: Yes [laughs]. That’s actually a challenge that most lawyers don’t face in the real world — they don’t have a website that’s tracking their engagements as they unfold month after month. They don’t have public events where anyone can look on as they have to answer these tough legal questions on the fly.

But again, that’s something that sets this program apart from what anyone else is doing. We’re not just putting our students through the paces and really pushing them to develop their skills, we’re doing it all where people can see it: on the site, at Innovation Day, and at our Year-End Celebration on April 23.

Obviously, we can’t share the details of intellectual property and some other sensitive information for these ventures, but beyond that our goal is transparency. Sink or swim, it’s all out in the open so people can really see the kind of training these students are getting and what they actually do.