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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Recreating Law School

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Ah Latin - we love latinI spend a lot of time hanging around CU Law School. I know it’s a strange place to find a venture capitalist and entrepreneurs, but it happens to be the epicenter of entrepreneurial activity at CU Boulder. I wrote a chapter about this in my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City explaining why and how CU Law has taken a different approach to the engagement of the of a university and the entrepreneurial community.

Step back and think about it a little. A surprising number of entrepreneurs have legal backgrounds. A legal education is a great grounding in systems thinking, which can be applied to many businesses, especially as their scale up dramatically. And, in a world that needs less lawyers and more entrepreneurs, repurposing some of the brightest non-technical graduate students to be entrepreneurs is a neat idea. See – that’s not so strange.

Phil Weiser, the Dean of the CU Law School, is a good friend. Phil also totally groks entrepreneurship and is aggressively applying it to the vision, the curriculum, and the operations of CU Law. Following are some thoughts of his that recently appeared in an article in the ABA Journal titled Five initiatives that legal education needs.

Just like every other corner of the profession, legal education is grappling with a New Normal that was barely appreciated as recently as four or five years ago.

Even as law schools welcomed incoming classes this year, the mood has changed. And it’s no secret why.

Applications are down nationally for the third year in a row. And larger law firms aresignificantly cutting back on their entry-level hiring. The American Bar Association is also starting to focus on changes to legal education, recently releasing a draft report (PDF) from the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.

Change is happening, and that’s a good thing.

The upside of today’s New Normal is that law schools have the opportunity to develop a new generation of lawyers who are more purposeful than ever before about how to develop and navigate their careers. These graduates will be legal entrepreneurs. By that, I mean lawyers—whether working in government, nonprofits, law firms, consulting firms, or businesses—who take ownership of their career paths and develop the tool kit necessary to add value and succeed wherever they work. Developing legal entrepreneurs, however, requires a commitment to innovation and experimentation that until recently has not been traditionally associated with legal academia.

To underscore the range of emerging innovations needed in legal academia, consider the following five initiatives now taking place in legal education:

1. Build an entrepreneurial mindset. Training law students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset is foundational for the New Normal. The reality is that large law firms are employing fewer and fewer law graduates, and the early interview week model is not what it once was. As such, law schools need to reorient their students’ thinking about their careers. An entrepreneurial mindset is a must in the New Normal, and law students need to heed LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s teachings in The Start-up of You. How law schools will transmit those lessons to a notoriously risk-averse group remains to beseen. But the age of law school as a risk-free option for people who expect a job to be handed to them at the end is over.

2. Challenge employers on entry-level hiring. Challenging employers to think differently about entry-level hiring and summer jobs is a critical to adjusting to the New Normal. The marketplace for legal talent is incredibly traditional, and the resistance of employers to experiment is a formidable challenge to creating new opportunities for recent law school graduates. Most law students would welcome the chance to work at any number of successful law firms or in-house organizations in a temporary capacity over the summer or even upon graduation—even at lower rates than traditional summer associate or associate positions—because such jobs can offer valuable opportunities to build marketable skills and develop important networks, connections, and references. And such opportunities present firms with the chance to use the talents of these students or recent graduates. But a big impediment to developing such an opportunity is that firms often believe that they cannot provide them if they are not prepared to offer a long-term job when the student graduates. A number of law schools are taking this issue head on, such as the Cardozo New Resident Associate Mentor Program and, in Colorado, where both law schools (the University of Colorado and the University of Denver) are collaborating on a Legal Residency program that encourages law firms or other employers to hire a recent graduate for 12 to 18 months, offer a quality experience, and provide apprenticeship outside of the traditional associate track.

3. Compress law school education and couple with experience. Law schools can couple a 2.5 year degree with a quality experience. The opportunity to graduate in 2.5 years, which can be achieved through accelerated schedules that permit saving a semester, is increasingly appealing as tuition costs has risen greatly over the past decade. Law schools encouraging such paths can work with partners like Cisco’s general counsel Mark Chandler, who is welcoming paid interns for seven months at Cisco from June 1st after their second year until the following January, enabling students to graduate not only with less debt, but with more experience.

4. Provide multidisciplinary training. Law schools increasingly are providing their students with multidisciplinary training, including but not limited to key business skills. The New Normal means that “thinking like a lawyer” is not enough; we need lawyers who can “think like clients.” For lawyers to understand their clients, they need to learn their businesses. This concept applies to those working in the public sector as well as the private sector; lawyers with domain knowledge of the fields they are practicing in are simply more likely to succeed than those without such knowledge. This means more nontraditional courses, more interdisciplinary courses, and more “boot camp”-type experiences.

5. Engage with the community. Law schools need to engage with their communities, get to know their success stories, and reverse-engineer them. The reality is that law firm hiring is not coming back, and a core challenge for law schools is to develop nontraditional opportunities—such as ones in business development, compliance, human resources, and public policy—for law school graduates with the right skill sets. The challenge is that developing such partnerships and opportunities is a long game. But the forces that shaped today’s New Normal were a long time coming; the actions that will enable law schools to adapt will take time as well.

Experimentation, innovation, and the New Normal. In 2008, most law school deans were living in the Old Normal. Today, all law school deans know that they are in a New Normal. The reality is that the shaping of today’s environment took place over a long period of time, even if we did realize it while it was happening. As such, developing a new model will not happen overnight. But momentum is building. The broad outlines of the New Normal—the need for a more entrepreneurial mindset, more community engagement, more multidisciplinary training, and new (and nontraditional) employment pathways—are now taking shape through experiments all over the country. The exciting part of this emerging paradigm is that it is still very much a work in progress, and law schools have the opportunity to develop creative partnerships and innovations to support our students in a changing and challenging environment.

NovoED MOOC on Raising Venture Capital

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I’m spending the new two days filming the content for a MOOC on raising venture capital. The content is based on my book with Jason titled Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. After exploring a few different MOOCs for this, I think NovoED is the most interesting platform.

I’ve been impressed with the quality of the courses that currently exist. Several of my friends have done courses, including Chuck Eesley, a professor in Stanford University’s Management Science & Engineering group. Among other things, he’s got a great NovoEd course starting in a month titled Technology Entrepreneurship as well as a superb reading list for anyone interested in entrepreneurship.

Matt Blumberg finished filming the course around his book – Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business - a few weeks ago. I got a preview of a few segments – it’s excellent and exceeded my expectations for what NovoED was planning to do.

I’m looking forward to yet another experiment in content creation, this time around a MOOC. In addition to creating the content, I’ll be an active participant / teacher in the course when it comes out.

I’ve often talked about how I learn things by doing them. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m fascinated with what I perceive will be a radical transformation over the next decade in how education works. I’ve been participating in it already through experiments like Techstars, which has completely changed how I think about entrepreneurial education. Creating – and participating – in MOOCs in another step in my learning process as I form a view about what is really interesting here.

The One Trillion Reasons To Rethink How Higher Education Funding Works

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Last night at dinner I got into a conversation with Greg Gottesman about the trillion dollars of student loans outstanding in the United States. Greg pointed me to this awesome TEDx Talk that he did recently on the topic. I just watched it – if you are interested in higher education in any way it’s worth 12 minutes of your life to watch it right now. I’ll still be here when you finish.

While Amy and I don’t have kids, we’ve funded the college educations for several relatives and the children of several friends. We’re fortunate that we can write these checks as the parents couldn’t have, and in each case the experience has been life changing, with no strings attached, for the young men and women. They went to schools they previously couldn’t have afforded and when they graduated they had no student debt.

When I consider their paths without our support, it would have been harder. Each of them is an amazing young person, but they are able to explore more things, in different ways, because of the education they got. And as I watch them continue to learn and grow, through their work experience, additional education, and online activities, I realize that the chance they had to go to college is still a critical part of the American dream.

I’m interested in this at many levels. My wife Amy is on the board of trustees of Wellesley College and cares passionately about her alma mater, the amazing experience of going to school there, as well as the increasing cost of education. I’m on the CU Boulder Chancellor’s Strategic Advisory Council and one of the major topics we have been discussing is the escalating cost of education and the dramatically decreasing public funding of education. I’m an investor – directly and indirectly – in a number of companies creating new online education systems. I’m a content provider for some of these MOOCs, with some courses coming out over the next twelve months. And I’ve started to take some courses as a way of learning new things while understanding what works – and what doesn’t work – with this new approach.

Up to this point, I’ve been focused on the cost and content side of the equation. Until last night, I didn’t think much about the implication of the student funding side (e.g. debt) of the equation – either the long term macroeconomic effect on society or the short term microeconomic effect on the recent graduate now saddled with student debt.

There are plenty of creative approaches to this, including many experiments underway with schools like MIT and Stanford in conjunction with new companies like Udacity and Coursera. The activity on the course and content side seems vibrant, which has the opportunity to lower overall costs.

But I don’t have a clue about the financing side, and am going to think more about it. If you have any insights, feel free to toss them in the comments or point me at stuff I should read.

Changing How We Think About Education

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On Friday I spent three hours at Tufts University meeting with Chris Rogers and a few of his colleagues at the Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.  We had an awesome, wide ranging conversation about what they are doing, how the accelerator model could apply, and how education, especially around engineering and computer science needs to radically change, as well as some concrete suggestions about how to change it. I also got a tour of the research lab which had an enormous number of legos everywhere as one of their key sponsors is Lego.

James Barlow, the Director of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program for The Gordon Institute at the Tufts School of Engineering was also in the meeting. He was as awesome as Chris and was able to speak from experience around a lot of accelerator activities, especially in Europe.

Yesterday, he emailed me a brilliant RSA Animate talk by Sir Ken Robinson on Changing Education Paradigms. I just watched it and found myself nodding my head up and down for most of the 11 minutes it took to watch the video.

I encourage you to invest 11 minutes of your life and watch it right now if you are interested in getting an insight into why much of our current approach to education is broken (the “why”) along with some of how it can be fixed (“the what”).

I believe strongly that accelerator programs like TechStars have become a very effective “education program” for entrepreneurs. While we’ve figured out pieces of it, we are now taking it up a level by trying to figure out the longer term arc around multi-year programs, along with additional programs linked to entrepreneurship, but not necessarily for entrepreneurs, such as Boston Startup School. Academic accelerators, like the one that MIT ran this summer called the MIT Founders Skills Accelerator, are introducing and experimenting with this in an academic setting. Finally, my friends at Startup Weekend are working on something called SW Next that they’ll be rolling out soon – we talked about it extensively at our board meeting ten days ago.

When we look back in 40 years, I expect another dramatic impact of the Internet and the web will be a massive shift in the way education is packaged and delivered. And that’s a good thing.

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