Mark Mallery* is becoming something of a tech ambassador, guiding another tour of StartX—this time for a delegation of Dutch executives, including the mayor of Amsterdam. He converses easily with the group, answering questions about the Stanford-affiliated startup “accelerator.” He meets regularly with people from across the country and the globe, all of them eager for insights into the elixir that is Silicon Valley. It is just one of the many responsibilities Mallery, JD/MS ’15, has taken on this year as director of operations at the nonprofit that has helped develop more than 100 companies in just over two years. But as co-president of the SLS Entrepreneurship Club, he’s also making sure that his classmates know as much about the opportunities at Stanford and in Silicon Valley as the visiting dignitaries. The new student organization was formally launched this academic year to nurture and encourage a growing entrepreneurial community at Stanford Law School.
“A legal mind adds depth and foresight to an entrepreneur’s toolkit,” says Mallery. “While that value is most apparent in the context of a legal problem, the perspective is valuable in any context.”
Mallery has a lot on his plate this year. He’s also developing a business idea of his own, one that came to him while in Venture Capital I (VC I) at Stanford Law. And there is studying to get done. But he wants to take advantage of the entrepreneurial community he has found at Stanford—and is finding plenty of company at the law school, where more and more students are embracing technology and innovation.
The idea of the SLS Entrepreneurship Club has been bumping around for a while, but organizers got serious about it last year when Tim Hsia, JD/MBA ’14, Erik Pavia, JD ’13, and several classmates called a meeting to gauge interest.
“At least since I’ve been here, there’s been a sense of a shift. There’s an entrepreneurial zeitgeist on campus that extends to the law school,” says Hsia, who started a campus tech media site The Dish Daily and has worked at Morgenthaler and Ignition Partners. “The Entrepreneurship Club is meant to connect entrepreneurial law students with each other but also to students throughout campus—and beyond to alumni.”
Law students are taking advantage of the many resources available at Stanford to support their ambitions—including a candy store-like array of courses and programs, all aimed at promoting entrepreneurship. At Stanford Law, the second and third years are turning out to be opportunities not just for clinics and practicums, but also to learn how to start a company or work with others doing the same.
Briane Chanelle Cornish, JD ’14, co-president of the club this year with Mallery, has been busy doing just that—hosting career discussions and making sure law students know about the opportunities available to them at the law school and university. The club now has 100 members and is connected to many more throughout the Stanford campus and beyond.
Manal Dia, JD ’14, is one of the lucky participants in the 2014 LaunchPad: Design and Launch Your Product or Service, a Stanford d.school course that helps students to develop and launch a business idea. Competition for a place in LaunchPad is stiff, and Dia is the only law student in it this year. She’s working on a new printer that she believes will take 3D technology to the next level with embedded electronics. “This is technology out of the future,” says Dia, who is an electrical engineer and computer scientist by training. The legal questions her hardware, called Rabbit Proto, raises are also deeply interesting to her.
“3D printing might be the next Napster,” says Dia, who has an IP background. “As an engineer who learned the language of law, I enjoy working on the big issues in tech that have a law component.”
And like most entrepreneurial law students, Dia has been taking plenty of courses across campus.
“I came to Stanford Law because I would not be confined to a strictly legal curriculum,” she says. “Stanford Law encourages us to broaden our academic scope—and it allows more non-law school credits than most law schools.” She points to Startup Garage, which she took at the Graduate School of Business last year and, she says, was an “eye-opening experience.”
“I learned how to be an entrepreneur. And how to be an innovator. I started thinking that you can apply that approach to pretty much anything that you’re interested in.” Dia also took Venture Capital I at the law school and participated in the Stanford Venture Studio—taking in what she calls “the Stanford ecosystem of entrepreneurship.”
For Cornish, Stanford Law’s Venture Capital II (VC II) was one of her favorites. “I moved my idea to a plan, created a business model and a pitch,” she says. Cornish is also a TA with CodeX, the legal-tech program at Stanford Law. And she has taken “lots” of entrepreneur-oriented courses, including Startup Garage, which, she says, “was amazing, particularly for students who want a thorough experiential learning process in entrepreneurship.” But she is more interested in social entrepreneurship and the law and is hoping to create a social venture that, she says, “helps bring access to the law for marginalized populations in a sustainable way.”
“We’re looking at ways to help people navigate the legal system, perhaps to communicate with a lawyer or legal advocate via mobile phone,” she explains. She found a workshop organized by Margaret Hagan, JD ’13, particularly helpful. Hagan is currently a fellow at the d.school—the first to focus on law and its design. She organized several workshops this year that brought students from across campus together for intensive problem-solving sessions looking at key legal issues.
The focus on the human experience and design was insightful, says Mallery, who also participated in a workshop.
“The need for legal services is driven by interactions between people, thus, legal design requires a human-centered approach,” says Mallery.
Josh Glucoft was on his way to the law library to get some focused studying in before exams. But something was on his mind. How many characters would it take to say something funny about a photo? So he emailed a photo to 25 friends and asked them to write something funny about it.
The result: an average of 30 to 40 characters.
Glucoft, JD ’14 (MS ’11), is developing a photo-sharing mobile game that he hopes will capture the fun people have with sharing photos and their zeal for captions. But he’s got a problem.
“Mobile phones don’t have infinite space for text, particularly with a picture. So I need to establish the optimum number of characters needed in the text field to allow for humor to come through,” he says.
A previous project made it into LaunchPad last year, where Glucoft tried to work out a business plan for an innovative toilet design. It was, he says, a great experience—but in the end the idea stalled.
“It required a lot of investment and supply chain expertise. I decided that while the idea is good I don’t have the bandwidth for that project now,” he says.
However, he is putting the lessons learned in LaunchPad to use again, working with a graphic designer and programmer to develop the photo-sharing game. He’s also pulling from his legal toolkit—working through issues such as copyright trademarks, privacy, data retention, contracts, licensing, and negotiations. “Two weeks after spending a whole class on email negotiations, I put the lessons to practice with my own negotiation,” he says.
Glucoft taps into the many entrepreneurial students on campus too—he’s on the SLS Entrepreneur Club’s listserv as well as others and can easily reach out to more than 600 graduate students.
Some entrepreneurial law students are advising startups too.
Ibrahim Elshamy, JD ’15, was invited to work on an organic food retail startup with students from the GSB, management science, engineering, and computer science departments. Elshamy had met the group last year when he was project coordinator of the law student organization Project ReMADE, which introduces formerly incarcerated individuals to entrepreneurship (see Stanford Lawyer Issue 89 for more). He spent last summer working on the startup.
“I was on all companywide decision calls, from sales to advertising to tech,” he says. It was a team of seven, with all hands on deck. And Elshamy’s legal skills came in handy.
“We had gotten a quote from a law firm of $1,500 for the firm to file our trade-mark. I decided to see if I could do it myself,” explains Elshamy. He reached out to the Stanford Law community through the student listserv and got a response right away. Pieter Gunst, LLM ’11, was happy to walk him through the process. Gunst is an entrepreneur-in-residence at StartX and had started the student organization Code=Law to introduce law students to coding. He’s also the co-founder of legal-tech startup LawGives, an online marketplace for legal services—a venture he began with classmate Tony Lai, LLM ’11, before they graduated. “I did the trademark filing myself and it was successful,” says Elshamy. “And it saved the company money.”
Jennifer Rosenfeld, JD/MBA ’14 (BA ’09), went to law school to fine-tune skills she had already been practicing. Rosenfeld teamed up with a high school friend just after both had graduated from university to make their own opportunities in an area they love. Musicians themselves, they first co-founded iCadenza to offer career training and guidance to musicians and later broadened their services, launching a companion artist management company, Cadenza Artists.
The motivation for this venture was very personal. “A lot of people think that classical music is dead,” says Rosenfeld, noting the cuts in music budgets in schools and towns across the country. “At the same time, so many young people are graduating from university and conservatory with music degrees with big ideas but limited career guidance. There are great people reinventing various art forms and innovating in music. I wanted to support that.”
Rosenfeld participated in LaunchPad and a design-thinking boot camp at the d.school. She also took VC I and II and Deals. “I particularly enjoyed the law school classes,” she says. “They brought together law and human psychology and behavior. Yes, we studied contracts, but at the end of the day, we’re dealing with people who have emotions.”
Rosenfeld says that after she graduates, she’ll go back to iCadenza, where she hopes to apply lessons learned at Stanford to grow the company. Other students in the SLS Entrepreneurship Club will start companies of their own too. Still others will invest in startups or work for them—or join firms.
“I look at this as more of an opportunity than a business,” says Glucoft, who plans to focus on patent law at Irell & Manella LLP in Los Angeles after he graduates. He views his startup as an entrepreneurial project, but not the focus of his future career as a lawyer. “This is fun. I’ll have two months to get it up and going after the bar,” he says. And then—he’ll focus on being a lawyer.
But perhaps, most important, is the newfound mindset.
“I came to Stanford in particular because I wanted my legal education to have an entrepreneurial emphasis,” says Elshamy. “The wheels are now turning and I may start my own company down the road—I still have a lot to learn. But this is all about removing barriers so we can create our own opportunities.” SL
*Mallery left StartX in June 2014 and is clerking at White & Case LLP as of June 2014