Law School students currently have the opportunity to prove accused people innocent, work on environmental issues and starting next semester, they’ll have a chance to collaborate with aspiring entrepreneurs.
Through the University’s newest clinical law program, the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Program, Law School students will gain practical experience in entrepreneurial law, and student entrepreneurs will have free access to otherwise expensive legal advice. The program is named after and funded by Sam Zell, a Law School alum who donated $5 million to help start the program.
Law School Dean Evan Caminker said he was approached last fall by alumni who saw a need for an entrepreneurship program at the school. The program has since been in development and is the Law School’s 12th clinic. Other Law School clinics include the Michigan Innocence Clinic, the Child Advocacy Clinic and the Environmental Law Clinic.
Caminker said the ZEAL program is unique because it caters to students who are already involved in entrepreneurship at the University. He added that the ZEAL program will give field experience to Law School students, since they will aid student entrepreneurs with their legal transactions.
“We believe that we will be the first program which services entirely a student entrepreneurship clientele,” Caminker said.
After graduating from the University, Zell founded Equity Group Investments, an investment company headquartered in Chicago. Zell also owns the Tribune Company and helped launch the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies in the Ross School of Business about 11 years ago.
Zell said in an interview with The Michigan Daily that based on his past experience starting the Zell Lurie Institute, he thinks the ZEAL program will be successful. He added that the program is necessary as the legal field evolves.
“I think America is all about entrepreneurial activity in one form or another, and I think the legal profession, myself included, has been the creator of a lot of entrepreneurs,” Zell said. “I would hope this kind of a program would make the idea and the concept much more real for potential law students to look at as a different kind of an option than just the practice of law.”
Caminker also said he thinks an entrepreneurial background will put the students involved in the program at an advantage after they graduate.
“I think (the ZEAL program) will allow them to hit the ground running faster,” Caminker said. “There’s a higher premium being paid right now on students who not only know how to be great lawyers but who also understand something about the business world, and who understand how business people think and what they want out of their lawyers.”
Law School student Brian Flaherty, a former Daily columnist, said he thinks acceptance into the program will be competitive, since the program will only offer one course during its first semester.
“I think there’s been a void between the entrepreneurial community at (the University) and Law students, and the void’s been there for a long time,” Flaherty said. “I think hopefully this program will help students who are interested in entrepreneurship have a venue to get experience in that area and also to form connections with entrepreneurs on campus.”
Flaherty is also one of the founders of the Entrepreneurial Law Association — a student group started this past summer that now has 97 members. Flaherty said he and the other founders didn’t know about the ZEAL program when they started the Entrepreneurial Law Association.
Caminker said the ZEAL program will strive to maintain a low student-to-faculty ratio and that the class’s enrollment will be limited until more faculty members are added. At the moment, no faculty member has been assigned to the program, but Caminker said he expects the program will have two faculty members in its first semester. He added that several Law School faculty members already work with the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering. Caminker also said he also hopes to expand class offerings after the program’s first semester.
Moses Lee, an academic program manager and lecturer in the Center for Entrepreneurship, said he thinks he will see an increased number of students in his class because of the program. He added that the ZEAL program will be a resource for his students by helping them move forward with their prospective businesses.
“Many of our student entrepreneurs here have legal questions, and obviously legal services can be very expensive for a new start-up,” Lee said. “So the fact that the Law School is providing the resource for student entrepreneurs is really going to help push our students in the right direction.”
Flaherty said he believes the program will give Law School students an experience they otherwise wouldn’t have had in the school.
“I think it really makes it a lot easier for a lot of students to achieve their career ambitions because there are definitely a lot of students who are interested in entrepreneurship,” he said.