Happiness Is...

It's The Law

...and small business is on the docket.

By Charlotte Mulhern

Here's good news for entrepreneurs with legal needs: An increasing number of U.S. law schools are offering courses with a small-business focus. That means more graduates are entering the work force with small-business law experience, intending to break the mold and pursue careers at small businesses instead of big law firms.

Who's getting in on the trend? New York University School of Law in New York City, George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC, and University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia, to name a few. The University of Pennsylvania, for one, offers a Small Business Clinic where students work under the supervision of a law firm representing small businesses. Students practice advising entrepreneurs in the start-up stage, drafting shareholder agreements, creating sales contracts and more.

"I think increasingly [small-business law] is being recognized as a different practice, with different legal rules and skills," says Gordon Smith, a law professor at Lewis & Clark College's Northwestern School of Law in Portland, Oregon. Smith explains that while traditional lawyers often specialize in a narrow area of law, successful small-business lawyers keep their skills more general.

Lewis & Clark's entrepreneurial-focused curriculum extends beyond that of most law schools. The college offers 10 such courses, ranging from seminars on initial public offerings to classes on drafting business documents. It is also developing a clinic where students will work with emerging businesses. And last year, the college launched The Journal of Small and Emerging Business Law.

"More students are interested in emerging businesses; that's partially because they have become the sexy businesses in our economy," says Smith. These companies also carry some risk. One Lewis & Clark student last year interned at a failing business. The benefit? He witnessed firsthand a company's struggle to survive. One drawback, though--the position didn't become permanent upon graduation.

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Happiness Is....

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