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Entrepreneurial spirit infuses Tulane Law

December 03, 2014

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John Christie, executive director of Tulane’s Office of Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property Development, chats with Law Professor Elizabeth Townsend Gard and a student after a session of the Law and Entrepreneurship class.

Photo by Guillermo Cabrera-Rojo 

Entrepreneurs take initiative and run with it.

They develop skills, adapt to solve problems and continually seek new opportunities.

Larry Aldrich (L ’77) is an example: an attorney, civil engineer and businessman, he’s worked as a federal prosecutor, a corporate in-house counsel, healthcare system CEO and venture capitalist. Now a managing partner with a technology-driven consulting firm, he’s eager to assist Tulane Law School’s program of hands-on studies in entrepreneurship.

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Attorney and businessman Larry Aldrich (L ’77) of Arizona has funded an endowed scholarship for Tulane students interested in studying legal entrepreneurship.

Photo courtesy of Larry Aldrich 

Aldrich and his wife, Wendy, are funding the Wendy and Larry Aldrich Endowed Scholarship in Legal Entrepreneurship. The new scholarship will be awarded to students who hope to launch careers in business innovation. 

The gift dovetails ideally with new learning opportunities in the field, including a course on Law and Entrepreneurship led by Professor Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a specialist in intellectual property law and herself an entrepreneur.

In fittingly creative fashion, the course leads students to understand the role that lawyers play in fueling innovation by requiring them to develop a new business plan in consultation with the rich resources available in New Orleans’ thriving climate for start-ups.

During the fall semester, students in the class met individually with leading business attorneys, did trademark work for more than 70 local entities and created a start-up company proposal to pitch to professionals who were guest speakers.

The class covered numerous legal aspects of starting a business, from employment contracts to exit strategies. A key component is teaching students to identify with entrepreneurs so they can more effectively counsel clients about the legal hurdles they’ll face with new businesses. 

“The class teaches students empathy, to help them understand the uncertainty of starting a business, as well as the legal aspects of it. It makes them better lawyers,” said Townsend Gard, who holds the Jill H. and Avram A. Glazer Professorship in Social Entrepreneurship, part of a larger Tulane University mission to support innovation and entrepreneurial work.

Another major element is helping students understand that legal training can be invaluable in helping entrepreneurs clear a path for innovation. Reflecting on his own multi-dimensional career, Aldrich emphasized that legal training can foster the creative problem-solving skills essential to realizing business opportunities.

“This path was never planned, but it is my legal training that’s been most beneficial along the way,” he said.

Aldrich said he also wants future attorneys to be able to develop solutions, not just spot problems. 

“I would love to help law students learn to be the best, trusted advisors of their clients — to go beyond identifying legal issues and learning to really counsel businesspeople in their decisions,” he said.

Aldrich has had plenty of experience in the trenches: Among other things, he’s served as in-house counsel for media giant Gannett, Co.; run two daily newspapers in Tucson, Arizona; led an integrated healthcare system; and helped launch tech startups. Currently, he’s Arizona managing director for nationwide business consulting firm Newport Board Group.

“You shouldn’t tell businesspeople they can’t do something,” he said. “You tell them they can, and then together, you figure out how to do it. That’s the best lesson I ever had.” 

Students taking the law and entrepreneurship class have a chance to get an extended experience in building a new company. Their business proposal envisions law students handling projects for alumni and local attorneys on a contract basis. The idea is for students to gain real-world legal experience, receive compensation for their work and showcase their skills and personal brands on the company’s online platform.

The law students came up with the concept and tackled the legal work for the project. Undergraduate Tulane students in a social innovation and entrepreneurship class taught by Townsend Gard’s husband, Ron Gard, devised the business plan. The goal is to launch the prototype for the business in 2015.

During the course, students received advice from representatives of the five New Orleans start-up incubators, including ongoing guidance from Jason Seidman (L ’12), co-founder of 52Businesses

“Students have been given the unique opportunity to learn the law and apply it to their efforts to start an actual company,” Seidman said. “With help from local business leaders and several entrepreneurial attorneys, the students now have a working knowledge of both the business world and a wide variety of legal issues that it takes to start, operate and finance a business. These experiences will help prepare the students to work better with their future clients.”


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