Corporate Lab Course Gives Students Hands-on Experience

Legal practice
Jason Kelly
University of Chicago Magazine
July 30, 2010

There's an old saying that law school doesn't teach you how to be a lawyer, just how to think like one. The adage has an uncomfortable ring of truth that has become a hot-button issue among legal educators. At an April "Future of Education" conference, United Technologies' general counsel Chester Paul Beach put the problem in stark terms: "We don't allow first- or second-year associates to work on any of our matters without special permission," Beach said at the conference, according to the legal blog Above The Law, "because they're worthless."

Students might graduate with deep knowledge of case law, but it's theoretical, lacking in practical application for a recent graduate at a big firm. Law School Professor and Associate Dean David Zarfes, AB'82, AM'83, the former executive vice president and general counsel of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, has developed a course to add that essential experience to the Chicago curriculum.

Corporate Lab puts students in direct contact with companies such as Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, Accenture, and AT&T. Groups of five to eight students are assigned to a company. The students work on issues similar to those that await them during summer internships and after they graduate-such as reviewing contracts to identify potential risk areas, surveying industry trends in negotiations or alternative-fee arrangements, labor and employment law, government contracting, intellectual property, and data privacy. "The 3Ls who are leaving now say it's exactly the work they have done in the summer at law firms," says JPMorgan Chase team leader Alex Roitman. "It's real-world, really practical stuff."

Faculty: 
David Zarfes