Today, most law students must possess a basic understanding of business before entering the legal profession. However, finding the time to take a semester-long class on basic business skills can be time consuming for students engaged in the rigors of law school. According to Lynn Stout, Distinguished Professor of Corporate & Business Law at Cornell Law School, it is simply "too distracting to teach something like this one hour at a time."
In an effort to help students learn this critical part of the legal world, Stout led a boot camp of sorts at the beginning of the semester. In one weekend in early September, Stout taught “Business Concepts for Lawyers,” a new one-credit course aimed to prepare students for practice in areas such as business transactions and litigation. The class, which met for four hours a day for three days, worked to get students ready for other upper level business courses, such as Bankruptcy and Corporate Finance.
“By having this in one intense weekend," says Stout, "it makes it easier for the students to learn.” Stout covered a wide range of business topics over the long weekend, including accounting and the securities market—material many of the students have never studied, says Stout. “The students had to adjust to it,” she says. “The course explains business concepts and gives students a fundamental business vocabulary.”
For the students who took the class, there was something appealing about the short and intense structure, which they say aided the learning process. “What I enjoyed most about this course is that [it] is quite compact so that we can learn a lot from Professor Stout in a short time,” says Yifan Wu, LL.M. '14. According to Wu, though the class was condensed into twelve hours, he was able to learn the basics of the business world—an experience he will take with him throughout his career. “This course will not make me become an expert in business but it will at least make me comparatively familiar with those terms.”
Drew Singer '15, another one of Stout’s students, said that the course “will help immensely” if he decides to go into a law firm that focuses on financial services. “Most importantly, I now at least have a baseline from which to build more knowledge instead of having to start purely from scratch,” says Singer.
Ultimately, despite the challenge of dealing with the novel nature of the material being covered, Stout says that she was impressed with the performance of the class. “On the whole, the class did quite well,” says Stout, adding that it wasn’t exactly the easiest subject matter to teach. However, as Stout notes, nailing down basic business concepts, such as knowing how to read a balance sheet, is imperative. “The course gave them good guidance to better their practice of law.”
This course if one of many new additions to the curriculum in recent years related to business and transactional law, lending to the vision of the Clarke Business Law Institute, of which Stout holds the first endowed professorship.