The Practicum is an interdisciplinary course which has been developed over the past ten years, first as a simulation class and then as a live client course offering. Each term approximately 12 students participate, drawn from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall and the Haas Business School. The course utilizes a variety of teaching methods, including lecture, simulations, case conferences, small-size team meetings, workshops/panels, and field trips to local businesses. The Practicum has also been unique in involving Boalt Alumni in simulations, case supervision and other teaching opportunities.
Over the semester, Practicum students acquire a working knowledge of law and business development, which enables them to assist entrepreneurs with common legal issues related to starting a business. A typical semester begins with a front-loading of transactional law applicable to start-ups, it then integrates practice skills (interviewing, counseling, case planning) and basic principles of business management. Subject areas covered include:
- Business Entity Formation
- Key Business Relationships: founders, employees, independent contractors, investors, creditors, suppliers, landlords
- Tax – aspects in formation/entity choice, basic IRS requirements
- Intellectual Property
- Employment Law and Human Resources
- For-Profit/Non-Profit Business Activities
Students provide assistance to clients under close attorney supervision. Student work is overseen by the Practicum Supervising Attorney and three volunteer attorneys, each of whom specialize in for-profit or non-profit business development. Recently the Practicum added an extensive on-line Resource Library to provide additional research support to students – including over 100 links to practice manuals, articles, lecture materials, and sample legal documents. To respond to many student requests to continue beyond one term, an Advanced Practicum class option was added in 2009.
The Practicum is unique among other transactional clinics in involving Alumni and other volunteer professionals in student supervision. Over forty volunteer attorneys and entrepreneurs donate their time and expertise to give guidance to students on specific subject areas. The Practicum also utilizes pro bono attorneys from leading Bay Area firms who agree to advise Practicum clients whose issues exceed the course’s scope.
The Practicum is also distinguished by its close relationship with UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, particularly the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship. Each term, MBA students participate on Practicum student teams, contributing knowledge of business management, marketing, and strategy to help the Practicum‟s counseling become interdisciplinary. All students benefit from increased opportunities to learn how to work in teams, and from the different perspectives – law and business – brought to the table from each discipline.
Finally, the Practicum is distinctive in its strong ongoing emphasis on ethics education, which is integrated into all aspects of the curriculum. The duties of loyalty, confidentiality, competence and avoidance of conflicts are covered in the first classes and re-emphasized in all supervisory meetings. When ethics issues arise in representation, the Instructor revisits them in case conferences so that the ethics training is shared among all members of the class.
Student evaluations and client feedback have been consistently positive and have helped shape Practicum service provision and course curriculum.