Duke’s Entrepreneurial Spirit
a special Duke Today series

Creating a Path for Entrepreneurial Attorneys

By Forrest Norman

Entrepreneurs need more than bright ideas and seed money. They may excel at technology or marketing, but they also must set up a company, negotiate contracts with financial backers and handle other legal tasks — expertise that even many attorneys lack.

As part of the university’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, Duke Law School has begun filling that gap with programs that are training attorneys to meet the special needs of startups and other new ventures.

“I got to law school and realized fairly quickly that the traditional path wasn’t for me,” says Daniel Pratl, a Rutgers Law graduate who in May received one of Duke Law’s new LLM degrees in law and entrepreneurship. Spending two semesters with faculty experts and local entrepreneurs “gave me a chance to work with people from different kinds of start-ups with very different goals and experiences. Those experiences allowed me to take a step back, see the bigger picture and figure out a path forward.” Pratl is now a business strategy consultant with Red Hat, the open-source software company based in the Research Triangle.

Elizabeth Youngkin parlayed an internship she obtained through the program into a position at Clinipace, a local contract research organization where she serves as in-house attorney and team leader. Youngkin manages the contract startup process for global clinical trials, using legal skills ranging from negotiation to regulatory analysis.

“Through the program I met scientists and entrepreneurs on the verge of commercializing their ideas,” she says. “I had an opportunity to study alongside fellow entrepreneurially-minded attorneys and learn from their diverse experiences, including skills for advising entrepreneurs and small businesses.”

DUhatch is an incubator that helps Duke University students transform innovative ideas into viable entrepreneurial and social ventures.

Professor Kip Frey chats with students in Professor Erika Buell’s "Advising the Entrepreneurial Client" course.

Launched in 2010, the Law and Entrepreneurship program is led by Kip Frey ‘85, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who sees it as a way to help lawyers develop “a second-nature understanding of how business people view business problems.” Students learn from leading faculty about intellectual property law, transactional law, corporate law and other legal facets of entrepreneurship. Some students combine the juris doctor and master’s curricula in a three-year program.

They also connect with the Triangle’s burgeoning entrepreneurial community through the law school’s Start-Up Ventures Clinic. Founded in 2011, the clinic supplies free legal assistance to ventures that have not yet raised significant amounts of outside capital.

“By wrestling with the real issues new companies face and serving as counselors to under-resourced new ventures, our students emerge as more confident, thoughtful and practice-ready,” says clinic director Jeff Ward.

The clinic has developed a close collaboration with CUBE, the University of North Carolina’s lab for social entrepreneurs, working with ventures developed by CUBE students and giving presentations to young entrepreneurs in need of early-stage advice. Among the CUBE groups advised by clinic students: Buzz Rides, a fleet of electric cars providing transportation and advertising to UNC students, and Seal the Seasons, an organization that packages and sells organic produce deemed misshapen or blemished, but still good to eat. Clinic students also work with local start-up incubators such as the American Underground and Bull City Forward, a Durham organization working to develop social entrepreneurs focused on solving social problems.

DUhatch is an incubator that helps Duke University students transform innovative ideas into viable entrepreneurial and social ventures.

Duke Law students give presentations during the Start-Up Ventures Clinic at the American Underground.

“We’ve done a series of presentations on things like equity distribution issues for founders and we often just block off ‘office hours’ times to meet with start-up founders in need of advice,” Ward says.

The law school is also home to the Center for Innovation Policy as well as entrepreneurial offerings such as “Advising the Entrepreneurial Client,” a class taught by Erika Buell, who represented venture-backed companies for a decade before joining the faculty.

Photos by Megan Morr, Duke University Photography

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