Oct. 5, 2017

Law students learn skills to support entrepreneurship in new course

Goal is to make students and grads 'irresistible' to clients and supporting law firms.

What legal structures contribute to the success of an entrepreneurial startup? How do the various terms in shareholder agreements or employment agreements play out in the unique atmosphere of a fast-growing venture? What are the legal issues that arise in financings? These are the types of questions being considered by students in the new Entrepreneurial Law course in the Faculty of Law.

Students learn where the law fits into starting a business

Starting a business and continuing to successfully run it over several years involves numerous different areas of expertise. Third-year law student Andrea Williams says, “It’s a business venture, so your focus needs to be broader than the legal issues to understand how common issues in startups will impact agreements and other legal structures.”

As well, there is no one discrete area of law relating to “entrepreneurship.” Entrepreneurs need assistance in a wide range of areas that bear on their businesses. In practice, this means law students need to gain a thorough knowledge of distinct legal areas such as tax, employment, intellectual property, securities, contract, and corporate law.

Course teaches problem-solving through active learning

This type of creative problem solving is exactly what professor Bryce Tingle seeks to encourage in his course. Tingle says the course is unique: “We are trying to teach students to imagine what could happen in the future, so the legal arrangements they put into place today will facilitate positive outcomes. Startups are vulnerable — a lot can go wrong — and lawyers are essential to their success.”

This way of looking at law is taught by giving students the opportunity to review actual legal documents and discuss the ways various terms of these agreements might play out in the company’s future. What happens if the founders have a disagreement? What if a venture capitalist wants different terms in the shareholders agreement? What if the company decides it wants to go public?

As Williams puts it, “What do we have to put into place today to ensure tomorrow’s success.”  Hopefully this means that before students start practising law, they will have already considered many different business outcomes and the appropriate way to deal with them legally.

Young lawyers apply skills learned in class to real life

This course helps prepare students for their futures in the legal marketplace. For many students entering the profession, their first few years in practice will involve working with small businesses and startup companies. As well, a disproportionate number of young lawyers are enticed to join the founding teams of new companies or to step into the legal function at more established companies that are still growing rapidly.

Even though this is the first time the law school has offered Entrepreneurial Law, Tingle knows of several alumni of the BLG Business Venture Clinic who have joined promising new ventures. “The goal of these courses is to make our students and graduates irresistible to entrepreneurial clients and to the law firms that serve them.”