Corporate Lab: An In-House Lab for Future GCs
One law school has developed an innovative way to help students gain experience in the business of law.
Baxter International, the global health care company based in Chicago, was feeling the economic pinch two years ago, and its legal department was looking for ways to cut costs. General counsel David Scharf found a unique answer: He turned several legal projects over to an innovative corporate lab at the University of Chicago Law School. And he's been delighted with the results.
Baxter's lawyers "coach" the students, often holding meetings with them in the company offices. "It's a win-win," Scharf says, explaining that the students receive real-world corporate legal experience while "we get outside law firm–quality projects done at no cost to us."
He says the law students have worked on about ten projects for Baxter, including pending ones. They range from exploring how a specific law applies to a certain company situation to helping Baxter set up a venture capital fund by examining other venture-type arrangements within the industry.
Microsoft Corporation was the first company to "employ" the corporate lab in 2009, but 11 other major companies have joined in. The lab was started by associate dean David Zarfes, with the help of lecturers Michael Bloom and Sean Kramer, who is also an associate at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago.
Zarfes says he conceived the idea because "students in the classroom didn't know what I was talking about when I used everyday concepts in transactional law." Zarfes, a former general counsel at Paris-based Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, says the lab provides practical legal experience with global companies to some 70 second- and third-year law students. The students learn firsthand how to provide client services. "To my knowledge, we are the only law school in the country to have anything like this," Zarfes says.