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Immersion course builds first-year law students’ business savvy

February 05, 2017 9:57 AM

On Day One, the law students plunged into value chains, business models and corporate financial statements. Over a week of team exercises and working lunches, they explored funding mechanisms, merger pitfalls, client service and risk management. On the fifth day, they pitched an airline’s corporate board on acquiring a competitor — and faced grilling over such details as meshing cultures, dealing with potential layoffs, combining fleets and marketing to a new audience.

Tulane University Law School’s new Business Literacy boot camp for first-year students packed an introduction to the business world into an intensive week that wove expert presentations with case studies, group assignments and discussions with business executives.

A collaboration between the law school and Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business, the new course launched in January with an airline purchase as its first real-world scenario. To provide real-world insights, recently retired JetBlue Chief Financial Officer Mark Powers, who is teaching financial management at the business school, lectured on the industry and served as a “board member” for the final presentations. Students also heard from Trey Fayard, chief executive officer of GLO Airlines, the regional start-up operating out of New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport, and Gay Le Breton, managing director of Chaffe & Associates’ mergers and acquisitions group.

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Many of the 42 students in the course — almost a quarter of the 1L class — praised its structure and content. 

“I loved being able to dive into an industry that I knew little about,” said Katie Dye (L ’19), who has an anthropology degree and signed up to get an overview of business and corporate law. “Being able to pitch the acquisition of Virgin America by JetBlue to the former CFO of JetBlue, who actually worked on the deal in real life, was phenomenal.”


Vice Dean Onnig Dombalagian helped develop and teach Tulane Law’s new Business Literacy boot camp, a collaboration with the A.B. Freeman School of Business.

Vice Dean Onnig Dombalagian, who helped design the program, said a key goal was helping students “think about why their clients make the decisions they do.”

Law school classes typically focus on how lawyers can advance their clients’ interests. And other skills-building offerings, such as Tulane’s Intersession boot camp for second- and third-year students, cover the mechanics of drafting business documents and closing deals. Trial advocacy teaches litigation tools.

But a course that puts law students in the role of business consultant helps them see pressures and opportunities from the client’s perspective, Dombalagian said.

Business Literacy, which runs the same week in early January as the upper-level boot camp, has further expanded Tulane’s growing business law curriculum to better prepare new graduates for the competitive world they'll enter. Other offerings featuring premier corporate attorneys as instructors include a business planning course taught by John Herbert (L ’77), outside general counsel to Ceritas Energy, and a new contract drafting class with Lee Sher (L ’76), a top transactions lawyer and co-founder of Sher Garner Cahill Richter Klein & Hilbert.


Business school adjunct Mara Force brought her expertise as a former JP Morgan executive to Tulane Law’s new Business Literacy boot camp.

Douglas McKeige (L ’86) and other alumni are working with the school to develop and financially support programs like this to provide a working knowledge of areas including corporate finance, securities markets, balance sheets, income statements and private equity. McKeige formerly managed both a leading securities litigation firm and a major hedge fund before founding his own investor-litigation boutique, The McKeige Law Firm.

Mara Force, a former JP Morgan executive who helped teach the Business Literacy course, said it was structured to demonstrate a business mind-set.

“Lawyers want to each take a side. Business people need to work in groups and be cooperative,” she said. “Lawyers who are going to work with business people need to understand that dynamic.”

The course looked at different approaches to risk: where law school tends to teach protection against risk, business education tends to see risk as opportunity. But there also were commonalities: critical thinking and communication skills are essential for both law and business.

Force said she hopes students came away more confident with basic business concepts: “I hope that they feel prepared when they walk into their first job on a Monday morning and someone plops a pile of corporate papers on their desk.”

Tulane Law Clinical Instructor Elizabeth Calderón (L ’98) said that, in helping design the course, she called on her experience going into commercial bankruptcy and restructuring practice — without a business background — directly out of law school. With this foundation, students are a step ahead as they prepare for summer jobs and careers after graduation.

“What I really want for them is to start learning a language that they can use when they’re engaging with potential employers and potential clients,” Calderón said.

Powers said students were thrown in “on the deep end” but picked up the material quickly and showed skill, talent and confidence in making presentations not unlike what he was doing before his own board not long ago.

“I was impressed with how they were able to come together as teams and put together a compelling pitch and pick the right issues,” he said.

The course, which accepts only first-year students with no business background, also aims to help students sort out potential career interests, such as whether they’re interested in corporate law or perhaps a dual degree in law and business.

Katie Dye said she now hopes to take more business-related classes. “I learned that there is far more to the legal practice in a business setting than just drafting contracts,” she said.