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New entrepreneurship program hopes to attract students to UNC law school

Law School

The Van Hecke-Wettach Hall hosts UNC's School of Law.

UNC School of Law recently received a $1.53 million gift from the Kenan Trust to create an entrepreneurship program. The North Carolina General Assembly has also allocated $465,000 in recurring funds to sustain the program.

The program will provide legal services and guidance for local entrepreneurs with emerging companies while also providing hand-on training for students in the law school. Due to the low budget most start-ups face, legal counsel can be hard to find. This program seeks to benefit both participating entrepreneurs and law students.

“This gift and challenge from the Kenan Charitable Trust will catapult UNC School of Law onto the cutting edge of legal education,” said Larry Robbins, a partner at an entrepreneurial law firm in Raleigh, in a statement. “From my own experience representing clients in mergers and acquisitions and startups, there is a great need for legal advice at the earliest stages.”

The Trust’s gift will fund a for-profit ventures clinic, an intellectual property clinic and the Community Development Law Clinic. Each of these three clinics will be able to train eight to 10 students per semester. In these clinics, the students will be able to work with and provide advice to working entrepreneurs and their startups.

“We recognize that student education doesn’t just happen in the classroom and we are excited to support the entrepreneurship program that will train law students while strengthening North Carolina communities and the state’s economy,” said Douglas Zinn, executive director of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, in a statement.

While potentially helpful to both prospective lawyers and entrepreneurs, Dean Martin Brinkley of the School of Law said the new program should also help to bring in potential students to the law school.

“I think we'll be able to use it as a magnet for students,” Brinkley said, “Lots of people who are interested in Law school see Carolina as a good place to live and practice law, so I think, properly marketed, it can be a student recruitment vehicle.”

According to Brinkley, the program is long overdue for UNC, since the school is already a hub for innovation and is an integral part of the Research Triangle.

“There are about 140 U.S. law schools that have some sort of entrepreneurship clinic, so it’s been done in lots of other places in one form or another,” Brinkley said. “It's something we've needed for a long time at the law school, and we're thrilled to have it.”

The program comes at the request of the faculty. Before Brinkley was dean of the law school, the faculty did a self-study and found that it wanted to add to the experiential learning activity in the school, particularly in the area of entrepreneurship and intellectual property, according to Brinkley. The gift, along with sustainable money from the state, is allowing this request to be granted.

“The recurring funding that the general assembly appropriated for this will make it possible for this to go on indefinitely,” Brinkley said.

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