In Thomson Reuters’ examination of methods that modern law schools can use to help enable their students to become more “practice ready”, we identified four law schools already integrating practice-ready skills into their curriculums.
In the following series of case studies, we explore how those schools are shaping law students and law firms.
Startup Legal Garage Helps Law Students Take Advantage of the Bay Area’s Vibrant Startup Community
The six-year-old Startup Legal Garage program, created by Professor Prof. Robin Feldman at UC-Hastings College of Law, may serve as a best practice for law schools considering innovative approaches to experiential learning. The program combines an academic class that teaches relevant doctrine with fieldwork in which law students pair with supervising attorneys to provide legal work for early-stage tech and biotech startups.
Students also bring sanitized versions of the deals they are working on into the classroom, so they can see doctrine in context and learn from each other’s projects. “Startup Legal Garage is the best traditional law school pedagogy with the incomparable experience of working with live clients and seasoned attorneys in the field,” said Feldman, whose Institute for Innovation Law oversees the program.
Case Study: UC-Hastings College of Law
The program has two tracks: tech and biotech. “On the tech side, we work all across the board in any industry — online ordering, fashion, real estate, cloud computing, sharing economy platforms, mobile communications platforms and more,” explained Alice Armitage, associate professor and director of the program. “The biotech side is for law students with STEM backgrounds; they’re on track to become IP lawyers. Clients on this side come from the incubator California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3). Our students on this side are learning how to analyze patent landscape and help their clients develop freedom-to-operate strategy.”
Armitage described the program as a win-win: Students get real-world experience, startups come away with free legal work often valued at $15,000 to $20,000, and lawyers see business development opportunities as well as a chance to give back to the community.
“Students talk about how valuable it is to watch a practicing attorney talk to a client, and see an attorney ask a client probing questions that students would never have thought of,” Armitage explained. “They learn doctrine but also how to conduct themselves as professionals.”
One former Legal Startup Garage student and new associate wrote in anonymous feedback provided to the program: “I can honestly say that this clinic did more to prepare me for the work that I’m doing on a day-to-day basis than any other class in law school. The fieldwork portion gave me an understanding of the realities of client service: responding to time-sensitive questions where you don’t necessarily know the answer immediately, explaining legal concepts in an easy-to-understand fashion and the responsibility of being on a client team.”
Armitage agreed. “It’s invaluable experience that’s hard to get in an academic class,” she added. “In school, professors focus on, ‘How do I teach this material?’ But in the real world, it’s about getting the work done. Students have to figure it out how to apply what they’ve learned.”
“It’s even about learning how to schedule meetings and how to write an email to get attention that’s not rude,” she explained. “When students make mistakes here, we can say, ‘This is serious, and let’s talk about why this may not be the best way to handle it.’ But there’s a buffer, and they’re not losing a job.”
You can see the full Thomson Reuters study here.