PUBLISHED:November 13, 2012

Duke Law approves new JD/LLMLE program

Duke Law will launch a new dual-degree program in law and entrepreneurship beginning in the 2013-14 academic year, Dean David F. Levi has announced.

Duke Law faculty approved the new three-year joint JD/LLM degree in part because of the success of the school’s one-year LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship, which launched in 2010. Duke Law will continue to offer that master’s program for lawyers who already hold a JD or, in the case of lawyers trained abroad, have been admitted to the bar, Levi said. 

The new dual JD/LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship (JD/LLMLE) combines a rigorous JD curriculum with business and entrepreneurship courses as well as participation in the Start-Up Ventures Clinic, through which students provide legal counsel to start-ups; an entrepreneurship “boot camp” that models the experience of launching a new company; and an integrated externship in a start-up venture. The interdisciplinary and multifaceted curriculum is designed to prepare lawyers for careers as advisors to and leaders of entrepreneurial businesses and innovative ventures. 

The program’s curriculum requires three years plus a portion of two summers of coursework, a structure similar to that of the Law School’s highly successful JD/LLM in International and Comparative Law program. Students take two core courses in the summer prior to their first year of law school and additional courses during the summer after the first year in order to graduate in three years with both the JD and LLMLE degrees.

“This program capitalizes on our strengths in business, finance and entrepreneurship and greatly enhances the hands-on opportunities we provide to JD students to develop the business skills needed to advise or operate entrepreneurial ventures,” said Levi. “We are investing a tremendous amount of energy and resources — at the law school and university levels — to build a dynamic learning and teaching environment that brings to bear our partnerships in the Research Triangle, our relationships with alumni and business leaders who are successful entrepreneurs and mentors, and our faculty who are leaders in developing national innovation policy and in the fields of business law, intellectual property and finance.

“This degree is a great alternative to the joint JD/MBA for those students who are particularly interested in new ventures and innovation policy and who wish to complete a joint degree in business within three years,” Levi added.

Building on past successes

The JD/LLMLE builds on the curriculum and momentum of Duke Law’s one-year LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship program, which welcomed its third class of students this fall. That program has tapped into a demand among lawyers for programs that fuse business and legal training and has helped create a niche for Duke Law, said Kip Frey, a professor of the practice and director of the Law and Entrepreneurship program.

“Working with entrepreneurial companies requires a very different mindset and skillset than traditional lawyering,” Frey said. “You need to have the foundation of legal knowledge and skills as well as a second-nature understanding of how business people view business problems.

“We have a distinct advantage in this realm because of our proximity to and relationships with the Research Triangle entrepreneurial network,” said Frey, who is himself an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. “Our students will study the theory in the classroom and then apply it in their work experiences, in the clinic, and in case studies. They’ll see firsthand the limits of the theory and the challenges that entrepreneurs face every day. There’s no better way to prepare for work in this field than to jump into the thick of it.”

Growing the Start-Up Ventures Clinic

The Start-Up Ventures Clinic has expanded its efforts this year under the direction of Kip Johnson, a senior lecturing fellow at Duke Law whose legal practice has focused on advising entrepreneurial businesses and enterprises. Armed with both a Duke Law degree and an MBA from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Johnson guides students in representing early-stage ventures on matters related to the start-up process. Since the clinic’s launch last year, students have provided legal counsel to early-stage businesses and social entrepreneurship ventures, many of which are by student teams associated with the Duke Start-Up Challenge, the Fuqua School of Business's Program for Entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurship programs at the Pratt School of Engineering.

“The goal is for the clinic, first, to be a resource to Duke students in any of the various schools — to advise students who are thinking about creating a start-up venture as to what they need to do to realize that venture, to help them understand the larger start-up ecosystem, and to understand how some of the decisions they make on day one will affect their ability to do things later on,” Johnson said.

Participation in the clinic will be just one of several experiential learning components of the new JD/LLMLE. During the summer after the first year of law school, they also will participate in a one-month, intensive “start-up company” case study that models the entrepreneurial process as an academic exercise. The program will expose students to all phases of an early-stage company and the legal and business challenges typically encountered by entrepreneurs. For the remainder of that summer, students will be free to work at a law firm or early-stage venture.

Integrating hands-on learning and core curriculum

During the fall of the third year, students will have the opportunity to participate in a non-law firm externship experience at a local start-up company, supported by a classroom component that examines and highlights experiences from the externships. This ‘integrated externship’ model, based on the popular Duke in D.C. program, blends hands-on practice with substantive coursework and allows each to reinforce the other.

“This will provide a very coherent curriculum to prepare students with a rich balance of theory, financial skills and experiences to hit not just the start-up arena but more broadly the commercial and corporate practice area generally,” said Brainerd Currie Professor of Law James Cox, who participated in the design and implementation of the LLMLE program. “I fully expect that this will appeal to a large group of students and will have great appeal to their future employers.”

Students will be required to take two courses — Intellectual Property and Business Associations — in addition to the standard first-year JD curriculum. Upper-level course offerings include Advising the Entrepreneurial Client; Law and Entrepreneurship; Analytical Methods; Business Strategy; Venture Capital Financing; and a new course on Innovation. Students may also choose from offerings such as Corporate Finance; Securities Regulation; Intellectual Capital and Competitive Strategy; Financial Information; Corporate Tax; and Deal Skills.

“The new JD/LLMLE program is a very exciting new direction for the Law School,” said Arti Rai, Elvin R. Latty Professor of Law and the former administrator of the office of external affairs at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “The program’s courses will draw upon, and complement, the Law School’s existing strengths in business law and intellectual property.  The program is also highly complementary to both the university-wide Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative and to the Center for Technology and Innovation Policy that Professor [Stuart] Benjamin and I are setting up.”   

To learn more about the JD/LLM in Law and Entrepreneurship program, entrepreneurship at Duke, and entrepreneurship in the Raleigh-Durham area, see the LLMLE website.