Start up companies need good counsel, and good affordable counsel is sometimes hard to find. Zach Shulman (ILR '87, Law '90), who currently is an Adjunct Professor at the Law School and Senior Lecturer at the Johnson School, saw an opportunity for a student program to help these issues. He founded BR Legal (BRL) in 2003.
BR Legal is a joint program between Cornell Law School and the Johnson School. Through BRL, Cornell Law School students provide legal services to start up companies under the supervision of mentoring lawyers from outside firms. BRL charges its clients $25 an hour for student time -students get paid for their efforts and mentoring lawyers generally work pro bono. The projects are simple ones like setting up a legal entity, doing a founders agreement or a stock option plan, or submitting a trademark application. If projects get more complex then mentoring lawyers charge for their time.
Each year BRL has a large student team (this year for example there are 46 students). Importantly, BRL also has over 40 mentoring firms involved in the program.
BRL projects come in and Shulman matches up a student and mentoring lawyer with the client. The mentoring lawyer essentially treats the student like a young associate. The students gains valuable hands on corporate law experience. The client gets affordable legal counsel to get its business off on the right track. And the lawyer gains a potential client- once the client has more complicated legal work that needs attention, the client often uses the mentoring lawyer's firm for such services. Additionally, the law firm gains a closer affinity with the Law School.
Since its inception, BRL has served over 130 clients from all parts of the country. The mentoring law firm base is spread out and often this geographic element factors in to the matching process. This is a key characteristic that contributes to the success of the program.
BRL continually needs more good mentors. If you are an emerging company lawyer and would be interested in getting involved in BRL, please contact Shulman directly (contact info below). The time commitment is very low with each mentoring lawyer perhaps seeing one project per year if that (there is no obligation to take a project). Each project might take 3-6 hours of time spread out over a number of weeks or months.
For more information on BRL, see www.brl.cornell.edu. The website includes a complete client list and mentoring law firm list as well.
Contact: Zach Shulman Senior Lecturer, The Johnson School, and Managing Partner, Cayuga Venture Fund