Sunday, July 14, 2013

Should law schools invest in law firm start-ups?

To give new law grads a toehold in a shrinking job market, some schools have started "incubator" projects to underwrite the launch their solo and small firm practices.  Other schools subsidize their graduates pursuit of public interest jobs by either them a stipend or forgiving their educational debt.  In this post from Carolyn Elefant's excellent solo-oriented law practice blog My Shingle, she suggests that the next logical step is for law schools to spend money investing in small law firm start-ups.

Why Don’t Law Schools Invest In Law Firm Start Ups?

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If law schools want to teach students to take charge and be entrepreneurial, then they need to think entrepreneurially themselves. When law schools fund projects, they ought to focus on those that will result in creation of jobs for new grads. What that means is that law schools ought to be investing in solo and small firms started by their alumni.

Investment can take several forms. On the most basic level, just as law schools fund public interest fellowships, they should fund internships and associateships at solo and small firms – either outright or on a matching basis (where the firm pays $15-$25/hour and the law school matches). The intern could either displace low-end research or cite-checking work to free up the principal attorney to market and expand the practice.  Or the intern could be tasked with substantive marketing projects such as researching and writing blog posts or articles that could help attract new clients.

Law schools could go a step further, though. They could identify firms with growth potential, and provide the kind of support that Ycombinator offers to its incubator clients (funding would have to be structured in a way to avoid the bar on outside investment – and it could be if fashioned as loan forgiveness or paying for services that would help reduce the firm’s costs).  In exchange, the funded firms would commit to hiring and training alumni.

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Ultimately, a law school’s sustainability depends not on its academic achievements but rather, upon the success of its alumni – both those who are eventually able to make large donations but also those able to hire and train law school graduates.  Law schools that want alumni to give back then, ought to pay it forward by investing in solos and smalls – the engine of growth in the legal profession . . . .

Continue reading here.


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