When she graduates from Cornell’s College of Engineering with a degree in computer science, Adele Smolansky ’23 will have acquired the legal knowledge necessary to excel as an entrepreneur. Her optimism is inspired in part by the assistance she received from law students in Cornell Law School’s Entrepreneurship Law Clinic.
Two years ago, Smolansky gathered a team of Cornell computer science, information science, and business students to create AI-Learners, a niche company in the educational technology field. AI-Learners helps children with disabilities learn math through personalized computer games and analytics. Poised to take the e-learning platform to schools, she needed to ensure the company is fully compliant with regulations governing personal privacy, licensing, and corporate contracts. But legal advice is expensive.
Enter the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic. “We offer our law students real-world experience in transactional law that they simply can’t get in the classroom,” says clinic director Celia Bigoness, clinical professor of law. “Traditional legal education doesn’t teach you how to build and manage relationships with clients while trying to solve their problems. In law school, we teach mastery of the law, but with more than half of our graduates going into transactional work (as opposed to litigation), it’s important for them to learn how to structure client relationships and position them for success.”
That’s exactly what the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic is doing for AI-Learners. Before graduating last spring, Zach Zaremba ’22 and Matt Tinker ’22 partnered with Charlotte Lindsay ’23 to do a deep dive into the vast web of data privacy laws designed to protect minors online. This semester, Lindsay has teamed up with Simone Hernandez ’23 and Anthony Ricketts ’23 to continue the clinic’s work. “They’ve worked on a huge range of projects,” says Smolansky. “From non-disclosure agreements to data-privacy policies to licensing arrangements, their work is critical to our growth.” And the law students receive an added bonus for their free legal work—the satisfaction of advancing a worthy cause.
Smolansky’s idea for AI-Learners germinated years ago, as she watched her younger sister Lara struggle with Rett Syndrome, a genetic disorder. Unable to talk or use her hands, Lara relies on assistive technology, essentially using her eyes as a computer mouse. Smolansky envisioned an e-learning platform to help Lara and other children with disabilities. Lara, now thirteen, has advanced in her math skills thanks to her sister’s ingenuity. Now, AI-Learners is ready to take its platform to parents and schools to reach countless children like Lara.
“Here’s a societal need that was not being addressed,” says Bigoness. With rapid advances in artificial intelligence and e-learning, working with AI-Learners is offering law students a chance to be on the leading edge of the law. “Tech companies collect a lot of data. Working with young learners especially, there are a lot of privacy implications and the law is evolving.”
“My mother is a lawyer,” says Smolansky, “and she’s always had me double check everything I do. From the start of AI-Learners, I’ve been focused on protecting the minors we are helping. I know the law students are excited to work on something unique and for a good cause.”
It has also been rewarding work for Professor Bigoness, who practiced corporate law before coming to academia. “I love teaching and mentoring, and through the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, I still get to work with clients and the young lawyers who are the future of our profession. In Ithaca, there are many people interested in starting a sustainable business, but there’s no body of law focused on startups. Through the clinic, our students can support them, applying what they’ve learned in corporate finance, intellectual property, contracts, and transactional law, to entrepreneurial success.”