A new Center for Entrepreneurship – operating in both Ithaca and Cornell Tech’s New York City campus – will deepen Cornell Law School’s commitment to supporting entrepreneurial initiatives through clinical education.
With the support of a transformational gift from Franci J. Blassberg ’75, JD ’77 and Joseph L. Rice III, the Blassberg-Rice Center for Business Law will expand its popular Business Law Clinic.
“We are so excited to support the incredible program at Cornell Law School to prepare students to be thoughtful advisors to entrepreneurs and to provide an increased opportunity for entrepreneurs to obtain excellent legal guidance,” Blassberg said.
The Blassberg-Rice Center’s first priority will be expanding the five-year-old Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, where students provide Ithaca-area startups with a range of free transactional legal services, advising clients on everything from branding to commercial contracts, data privacy, employment, equity allocation, founders’ agreements, intellectual property, marketing, negotiations and, during the pandemic, COVID-19 protocols for businesses and employees.
Law students may begin in the clinic in their second and third years and typically remain in the clinic for the remainder of their Cornell career, gaining transactional experience as they progress toward graduation. Along the way, they deepen the fundamental skills they need to succeed in corporate law, emerging with a real understanding of building long-term relationships and advising clients in the early stages of business development, said Celia Bigoness, who founded Law entrepreneurship. Clinic and will now direct the Blassberg-Rice Center.
The center will expand the existing work of the Ithaca clinic and provide law students who choose to spend a semester at Cornell Tech an opportunity to work with clients in the New York City area—a first for Cornell Tech’s law school curriculum.
“The creation of the Business Law Clinic was one of the most important developments in our clinical program,” said Jens David Ohlin, dean and the Allan R. Tessler Professor of Law. “It has been enormously successful – so successful that its capacity is not sufficient to meet student demand. This expansion will allow us to expand the program while maintaining the intensive, hands-on approach that makes it so effective. We can expand our reach by turning this clinic into a full center and providing our corporate law students with a transformative experience in New York.”
Ohlin and Bigoness expect to hire two full-time clinical instructors in 2024, one based in Ithaca and the other at Cornell Tech’s campus on Roosevelt Island. They are looking to hire experienced attorneys with an established commitment to both startup legal services and legal education. These hires would triple the number of faculty at the clinic, the number of business clients it serves and the number of law students who can attend.
“We have a model that works very well, but we’re only just touching the tip of the iceberg in the clients we can serve,” says Bigoness, clinical professor of law. “With the establishment of the centre, more students will acquire the hard legal skills of transactional law along with the soft skills of managing long-term client relationships. They will learn how to think from the perspective of a business owner, how to communicate about finance and risk management, and how to set up when they start their full-time practice as lawyers.”
In Ithaca, Cornell Law students will continue to focus on the regional entrepreneur clinic waiting list. Companies that have recently worked with the clinic include AI-Learners, which provides accessible math classes for children with learning disabilities, and Lev Kitchen, a Middle Eastern restaurant that offers a living wage for its staff and is owned by two Cornell Nolan School of Hotel. Graduates in administration. In New York, Cornell Law students will represent a similar variety of entrepreneurs and startups while participating in a technology-focused law curriculum at Cornell Tech. This program will allow Cornell Law School to deepen its partnership with Cornell Tech to foster the growth of technology-based business ventures for both for-profit and nonprofit.
Kenny Berkowitz is a freelance writer for Cornell Law School.