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New Entrepreneurship Clinic in High Demand

By John Masson

It's a hands-on world out there in the legal workplace, and the 10 Michigan Law students selected for January's inaugural class in the school's new Entrepreneurship Clinic are about to find out just how hands-on it is.

Drawing on business ideas created in the University of Michigan's top-ranked medical, business, and engineering schools—as well as in every other part of the Ann Arbor campus, including the Law School itself—the Entrepreneurship Clinic will employ law students to protect intellectual property interests, form proper business entities, and conduct the myriad other legal tasks associated with launching a new business. At the same time, the clinic will give law students the real-life experience they need to facilitate entrepreneurial growth after they graduate law school.

The clinic experience will be invaluable for law students about to graduate, said 3L Tom Stasi.

"You're going to be working as a lawyer pretty quickly after getting your diploma, so you want some experience working first-hand with clients," Stasi said. Even for students who work as summer associates at law firms, he added, that client interaction isn't usually available.

"It's like playing varsity versus playing JV," he explained. "Summer associates are on the varsity team, but they're not on the field. When you're in a clinic, it's like playing on the JV—you get a lot more playing time."

There are other possibilities for students, as well, said Prof. Dana Thompson, '99, the clinic director.

"Some law students may get the entrepreneurial bug themselves," she said. "Students are such an ideal group to work with on entrepreneurial projects. They really see things in an entirely different light."

The clinic, a key component in the Law School's Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Program (ZEAL), will also be taught by Prof. Bryce Pilz, a Michigan Law grad (2000) who earned an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University (1997) as well.

Both professors say law students' response to the new clinic has been astounding. Fifty-five students listed it as their top choice for the initial 10 seats—more than did so for any of the Law School's 13 other clinics, Thompson said. As the clinic ramps up, the number of available seats will grow to 24.

The reason for all that interest, according to Pilz, is clear. The employment landscape is changing—not just for lawyers—and students know it. As a result, a new entrepreneurial spirit is developing as students pursue their own business ideas.

"Top schools like Michigan used to be feeders for established companies," Pilz said "But students now are much more entrepreneurial. The DNA of the University of Michigan is changing. We're going to have a lot of great clients to work with, because the talent is here. It's always been here."

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