“RETAIL SERVICES ON A WHOLESALE BASIS”
So, how will startups hire lawyers? Allard names a fairly typical set-up. “This is not exactly brand new, but they take a job, and they have a piece of equity, and their financial success depends on the success of the company,” he says.
But he also suggests alternative ways of tackling the puzzle. “I think that the structure of entrepreneurial law firms is going to be different,” he says. “There may be more efficiencies, more incubator-type situations, more shared resources.” In other words, the traditional law firm model will evolve to suit the needs of these companies. “Because different clients will be sharing costs, there’ll be a greater use of technology, there’ll be a premium on expertise in a particular area, so your learning curve as a lawyer isn’t so high,” Allard continues. “The answer, in this new age, is that lawyers who are working for entrepreneurs can provide retail services on a wholesale basis where they can make money.”
But how does CUBE—and Brooklyn Law, more broadly—plan to help the brave souls willing to go down this path? “It’s our job to address the problem of affordability of law school, to make sure people can afford to take those kind of chances when they graduate,” Allard says. The ideas he names have been tried before: raising money from alumni who are excited about entrepreneurship, expanding aid programs, providing more need-based aid, having loan repayment or loan forgiveness programs for recent graduates without high-paying jobs, and—of course—keeping costs down. “In the last 12 months at Brooklyn Law School, we’ve reduced costs 10%,” Allard says. “We’re going to reduce them 15% next year without sacrificing quality.” Those methods are respectable, but they aren’t nearly as innovative as CUBE purports itself to be.
RAMPING UP THE EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
Askin’s addresses the issue more bluntly. “You’re choosing a different lifestyle,” he says. “I’ve spent a couple of years at a law firm. They were not the fun years of my life. The fun years of my life were the years where I felt like I was building something with the startup community.”
Still, life is significantly less fun when you’re facing debt. When it comes to paying off loans, Askin doesn’t have an answer for current students, but he does believe that in today’s world, having a law degree will pay off—eventually. “Whether or not it happens in your first venture or your second or your third venture, I can’t say,” he admits.
But all that depends on serious restructuring in the legal market. Askin calls the current model “logically unsustainable.” He argues that it makes no sense to pay a first- or second-year associate $150,000 when that associate likely has “little more knowledge than a paralegal.” “No law firm anymore has the luxury to hire law graduates who don’t know how to do their job,” he asserts.
For that very reason, CUBE will focus on making sure anyone who goes through the center gets hands-on experience. Starting with the class of 2015, students will be able to earn certificates in entrepreneurship; the program will require them to complete at least one semester’s worth of experiential learning.
Moreover, this spring, students will begin applying to become CUBE fellows. “It’s going to be very much an entrepreneurial educational experience, because they will have an idea about a legal project relating to innovation and new business and they’ll pitch it to a shark tank-type of review group,” Allard says. “The shark tank will include entrepreneurs, faculty, members of the community. They will review it and comment on it, and if they accept it, the students become fellows, and in their third year, they’ve got to execute the idea, execute the project.” The project doesn’t necessarily have to be that hands-on, though: It could entail working for an entrepreneur, but it could also involve doing legal research on crowdsourcing, or running a conference on the healthcare rules governing small businesses. Fortunately, CUBE fellows will be able to tap into seed money.
Allard resists predicting what CUBE will look like five years from now. “If you live by the crystal ball, you have to learn how to eat glass,” he says. Still, he lays out a few basics. “I think it will be physically located in multiple micro-locations throughout the borough and New York City so that the lawyers are physically proximate to where the entrepreneurs are located,” he says. “They’re going to be physically embedded.” “We will have desks throughout the incubators, co-working spaces, accelerators, and other schools throughout the borough,” Askin adds.
He also expects CUBE’s international reach to grow. The center already has ties to Europe: Askin has received a grant from the European Union to help establish startup clinics in sixteen European universities. “I think that the present strong relationships that CUBE has with Europe will expand to Asia and most prominently with China,” Allard says.
Regardless, both Allard and Askin continue to hail Brooklyn as the epicenter of the new legal age and pretty much everything else. “I like to say Brooklyn is where great ideas come form,” Askin says. “You’ve gotta be around all different sorts of mind, all different sorts of people, and that’s how great ideas are created and nurtured. There are very few places in the world with that creative community that Brooklyn’s got at this moment. I don’t think it’s enough to live in an echo chamber—just in a law school, just in university. I think it’s important for law students to see what’s going on in the world outside and to be part of that creative force.”