By Andrew Cohen
Right away, Berkeley Law Professor Robert Bartlett saw that Adam Sterling ’13 was zooming toward the fast track. “He was a student in the first Contracts class I taught here and stood out from day one,” Bartlett recalled. “Very sharp, always prepared, incredibly insightful.”
Little did Bartlett know that Sterling would bring those talents back to the law school as executive director of its Berkeley Center for Law and Business (BCLB) starting July 13. Bartlett and Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon, the center’s co-faculty directors, envision a bright future.
“We will be the premier hub for corporate and capital markets law on the Pacific Rim, and Adam is the right person to execute that strategy,” Davidoff Solomon said. “This job requires you to function effectively before many constituencies—the business world, alumni, students, faculty—and Adam has proven to be adaptable and enormously effective.”
BCLB is the law school’s hub for education and empirical research on the interrelationships of law, business, and the economy. Its aim is to educate students, policymakers, and the public about the implications of its work and to promote economic growth, market efficiencies, and changes in business operations.
The center will soon expand its work within cybersecurity, sustainability, mergers and acquisitions, international law, and capital markets. New initiatives include a cybersecurity project with UC Berkeley’s School of Information, a sustainability conference with the Haas School of Business, and a project with the new Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco.
“I’ve always had a passion for building programs, and this opportunity is an ideal fit,” said Sterling, who earned a dual JD/MBA degree with a focus on entrepreneurship, and co-chaired UC Berkeley’s annual campus-wide startup competition. “My time at Berkeley was a real highlight in my life. The chance to come back and help a rising force like BCLB continue to grow is tremendously gratifying.”
Sterling described four main areas of emphasis for the center: Cementing Berkeley Law as the “go-to place” for the study and practice of business law; extending BCLB’s outreach in Silicon Valley and Asia; expanding its work within mergers and acquisitions, venture capital, and cybersecurity; and increasing connections with other campus units.
“It’s important to have students involved with all aspects of our programming,” Sterling said. “They often have the best ideas for much of what we do, and being a mentor to them is right at the top of my priorities. I’m excited to work directly with them and help them build their careers.”
A natural leader
Before attending law school, Sterling achieved eye-popping results as director of the Genocide Intervention Network’s Sudan Divestment Task Force. He developed a comprehensive policy that was adopted by the U.S. federal government, 23 states, and more than 60 universities and colleges while coordinating budget management, lobbying, and fundraising.
As a UCLA junior, Sterling mobilized students and approached university leadership about the growing armed conflict in Darfur. His team eventually developed an investment policy for the UC System to engage with certain companies operating in Sudan and divest from those that refused to improve their behavior in the country.
The California State Legislature took note, and soon Sterling was flying up to Sacramento on weekends to lobby for the measure. A featured subject in the 2007 documentary Darfur Now, Sterling won multiple awards for his work on Sudan.
His ability to build a network of diverse, strategic partnerships—encompassing religious groups, trade and labor unions, civil rights organizations, and youth advocacy movements—later spurred him to launch the Conflict Risk Network. The network is a coalition of investors representing more than $500 billion assets, and seeks to increase responsible investment in conflict zones.
Long interested in the intersection of business and law, particularly in the Bay Area’s startup ecosystem, Sterling joined Gunderson Dettmer’s Silicon Valley office in 2013. As a startup attorney, he supported clients and institutional investors in areas such as entity formation, fundraising, and mergers and acquisitions.
“From conversations with my former colleagues there, Adam has been a superstar,” said Bartlett, who practiced at Gunderson Dettmer before entering academia. “That’s no surprise to me. Given his unique combination of skills in both law and business and his entrepreneurial instincts, it’s quite frankly impossible for me to imagine a better fit for what we had in mind.”
Sterling replaces Ken Taymor, who is joining the School of Public Health and will direct the new UC Berkeley Center to Advance Science in Policy and Regulation. During his tenure at BCLB, the law school hired six faculty members who teach in the business law curriculum, and the Berkeley Business Law Journal became the law school’s largest student organization.
“Business law in general has become a core area of focus for both our JD and our LL.M. students,” Bartlett noted. “Ken leaves the center on a solid financial footing with a great staff and an amazing group of advisory board members.”