What the LLM Clinic is About
Central European University’s department of legal studies in collaboration with the CEU innovationsLab runs the Entrepreneurship and Innovation course (LLM Clinic) every winter term. The course, which started four years ago, allows the students of International Business Law to get practical legal experience by working with the iLab teams and helping to answer some of their legal questions.
The students get to assist the iLab teams in tackling legal issues while working under the supervision of practicing attorneys and at the end of the course, they are required to draft a memorandum that would answer the legal question raised by the iLab teams.
How it Started
The course began four years ago when the visiting faculty, Caterina Sganga, and the director of the Budapest-based startup incubator, Andrea Kozma, decided to work together to develop a clinical course that would make better use of the synergies available at CEU. The LLM clinic provides the IBL students with the opportunity to practice the content which they have been learning over time in topics such as Intellectual Property, business governance, etc, and assist the iLab teams in properly identifying legal issues.
For the iLab teams, the course provides them with the chance to get some preliminary or background information on legal matters which they may not be familiar with, so they would know how to have more effective discussions with their attorneys and make better use of their time. Associate professor Jessica Lawrence notes that since its inception, the course has remained a source of useful practical experience for the students and legal assistance to the startups in the iLab, and there has also been more involvement from the supervisors. Professor Lawrence also notes that the over the years, the course has been refined to make it more structured for the students and from next winter term, the IBL students would be able to do more in-depth research on the problems raised by the iLab teams and use that as their master degree dissertation if they wish.
Baker Mackenzie Contribution
The practicing attorneys who supervised the students during the course in the last winter semester were lawyers from Baker Mackenzie. They joined the meetings which the students had with the iLab teams to have an idea of what the startups do and also to properly understand the legal issues for which they need answers. This way, they were better able to guide the students on how they should approach the legal matters. The attorneys also provided legal resources—such as legal database and translation of documents that were not available in English—which was not accessible to the students but could help them in answering the legal questions raised by the teams or in writing the memo.
Throughout the course, they provided guidance and to the students, by giving feedback on the draft of their memos and making suggestions on how to best deliver the content in a way that is understandable for those without any legal background.
How the LLM Clinic Works
This collaboration between the iLab and the department of legal studies is such that the director of the iLab gets the iLab teams that are interested in participating in the exercise, and then the IBL students are assigned to the various teams in pairs or individually. The structure if the course is such that the students are given an introduction to some business topics before they begin the process with the iLab teams, and the supervisors who are practicing attorneys are usually available when the students need suggestions or guidance.
The course begins with an introductory session where the attorneys from Baker Mackenzie introduces the students to the kind of mindset they need to have when working with the iLab teams and business clients in general. This includes the kind of questions they need to ask the clients, how to communicate with them and the topics on which they should focus, as well as how to write the memorandum.
After the introductory session, there are other lectures on commercial law and business law topics. Then, there is a kick-off meeting of the LLM students and the iLab teams, as well as the supervisors. The iLab teams introduce how their companies work, what they do, their corporate structure etc. Then, they present the legal problem which they want the students to answer in the written memo. The goal of this interactive session is for the students to understand how the company which they have been assigned to works, as well as their business model. In this kick-off meeting, the students can ask the iLab team any questions which would help them properly understand what the legal problem is and get adequate information that they require to address the issue. This gives the students the learning experience that they need to know what kind of questions a lawyer needs to ask his client.
After some research, the students prepare a first draft of the memo, and the supervisors provide some feedback to make some improvements. Then, the students make the necessary changes after which there is another consultation with the teams, as well as the supervisors. After this meeting, the IBL students prepare the final draft of the memo, which they send to the teams.
When this process is complete, beyond sending the memo to the iLab teams, the students make a formal presentation of the content of the memo to the teams and answer any questions which the iLab teams may have regarding the memo. This presentation was an important part of the course because, in the legal profession, it is not enough to prepare a good memorandum, it is also necessary to give a proper explanation to the clients. The students did an excellent job, not only in preparing their memoranda, but also with their presentations, and Andras, one of the supervisors from Baker Mackenzie, expresses his satisfaction with the performance of the students, “…to see them being able to present this at the same time in person. It was a moment that made me very proud to see that my teams are really doing good.”
Main Take Away for the IBL Students
“I liked the fact that it was a good balance between independent research and supervised training by competent commercial lawyers.” –Melissa Ann Sicat (IBL student, 2019)
“…the curriculum allows for exposure to both theoretical and practical aspects of entrepreneurship.” –Joy Faida (IBL student, 2019).
Many of the students who enrolled in the course hoped to get some first-hand experience in practicing business law, and they did get that. They expressed appreciation for the course as it helped them to learn about business law and how to answer legal questions posed by business people and entrepreneurs in general. They got to learn how to focus on the most important questions, how to write a legal memorandum and how to do research to come up with answers to legal questions.
As with every important experience, there were challenges which the IBL students encountered during the course. Melissa Ann Sicat says, “The fact that the laws are all new to me and that Hungarian laws are not in English is the most challenging for me since I came from a country whose laws are written in English.” Also, some of the students faced the challenge of time constraint, as Joy Faida puts it, “There were many legal issues that had to be resolved in a short period of time.”
What the students appreciated the most about the course is best stated in their own words.
Joy Faida says, “The fact that the curriculum allows for exposure to both theoretical and practical aspects of entrepreneurship.”
Melissa Ann Sicat says, “It gave us valuable experience in handling actual legal cases of Hungarian start-ups. We were able to learn how to spot issues and solve them in the most concise way possible (hence, giving us a foundation of the necessary legal knowledge needed).”
A Huge Plus for the iLab Teams
The students worked with different iLab teams. Some of them worked in pairs while some worked alone with their assigned iLab team. For a team like Physi which had the skills to embark on an environmental sustainability project but still needed to understand the legalities of intellectual property (IP), the LLM Clinic was helpful for them to better understand how to pose their project to avoid legal complications.
They were able to overcome the most important aspect of the challenges with the help of the student and also to present their project to the European Commission with the help of Martina, their assigned student.
In a chat with some of the members of the Physi team, Atilla and Sara, they stated that they had several needs, but had to set up priorities to have a focus. The bulk of the work done by Martina had to do with Intellectual Property rights, as Sara notes, “…70% of the effort and questions were related to Intellectual Property.” They noted how Martina was able to assist and propose pathways to overcome different challenges.
For Salarify, an employer-sponsored fintech that offers a financial well-being platform to employees, the IBL students assigned to their team were able to answer the questions which they had about the PSD2 law issued by the EU. As Bence (co-founder of Salarify) puts it, “it helped us frame our roadmap on where and when to get the license. So that’s a huge plus.”