A Decade of Law and Business Symbiosis

Despite the longstanding and meaningful links between the worlds of law and business, when NYU Law embarked on a mission a decade ago to create a program for its students at the intersection of the two fields, it was a pioneer among peer law schools.

Helen Scott
Helen Scott

“Our goal was to basically give them a head start, a leg up,” says Professor Helen Scott, co-director of the Mitchell Jacobson Leadership Program in Law and Business. Although the Law School had long offered a joint JD/MBA degree, NYU Law’s Board of Trustees sought to provide greater opportunities for students to move more fluidly between traditional law firm positions and business-sector jobs, and even to move directly into the business world without first starting at a law firm. “We wanted to open up the vista of these kinds of careers for our students, introduce them to people who had made that shift, and give them the analytical tools so that they could make that shift earlier, or even right out of law school if they wanted to.”

The Jacobson Program selects a dozen 1Ls annually to be Jacobson Scholars. Receiving scholarships in amounts up to full tuition, students in the three-year program aspire to nontraditional career paths straddling the law and business disciplines. Lawrence King Professor of Law Richard Revesz, then the Law School’s dean, was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Fall 2007 launch of the program, which began with seed money and strategic input from Trustee Charles Klein ’63. Not long afterward, Revesz solicited the support of Trustee Mitchell Jacobson ’76, for whom the program was ultimately named.

Jacobson had been developing his own ideas about a law and business program. Talking strategy, Jacobson and Revesz focused on enhancing the stature of not only NYU Law but also NYU’s Stern School of Business and the broader University while leveraging the geographical advantage of being in New York. Their aim was to create a strong cohort of students in the law and business realm, similar to the networks fostered by the Law School’s Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholarship Program and AnBryce Scholarship Program, and to graduate future business leaders. The Jacobson Program’s creators also wanted to make it easier for law students to take business courses, and vice versa. They formed a strong partnership with Thomas Cooley, then Stern’s dean, in service of their goals.

“Universities are particularly challenging from a cross-functional perspective,” says Jacobson. “Thankfully, with Dean Cooley and [Dean Revesz] there was a relationship and a shared sense that it was really a win-win to begin to break down those silos and combine the students.”

Scott; Professor of Practice and Distinguished Scholar in Residence Gerald Rosenfeld, the Jacobson Program’s other co-director; and NYU Executive Director of Law and Business Initiatives Karen Brenner have overseen a steady integration between NYU Law and Stern. The Law School now offers more than a dozen law and business courses. Among them are Law and Business of Corporate Transactions and Law and Business of Bankruptcy and Reorganization, both of which Rosenfeld teaches or co-teaches, and Law and Business of Corporate Governance and Law and Business of Corporate Turnarounds and Leadership, both of which Scott and Brenner co-teach.

Gerald Rosenfeld

“The original idea was that all this work, whether it’s transactional analysis or turnaround analysis or governance or whatever, in the real world is a team sport,” Rosenfeld explains. “Schools tend to teach them in silos, and what we’ve been significantly successful in doing is breaking down the silos and starting students on the team approach to these problems before they get out of school and are forced to do it in the real world.”

Scott stresses the importance of interdisciplinarity in NYU Law’s law and business program as its second decade commences. “Business versus law, profit versus nonprofit—globally, lots of lines are blurring. I think our program is really well positioned to equip our students with the kinds of skills that they would need to navigate this world.”

The law and business courses are open to non-Jacobson students from the Law School, Stern, and other NYU schools, and the Amy and Brian Schorr Family Luncheon Speaker Series, sponsored by the program, is also open to all. Jacobson Scholars, however, benefit from the special attention Rosenfeld and Scott provide. The co-directors advise students on choosing courses, navigating summer job searches for both legal and business positions, and identifying mentors.

Keren Raz ’10, one of the earliest Jacobson Scholars, co-founded the Law School’s Law and Social Entrepreneurship Association, now the Social Enterprise & Startup Law Group, because of her strong interest in social entrepreneurship—applying business solutions to social challenges. Raz, now an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison focused on corporate social responsibility and sustainability, speaks to the importance of Rosenfeld’s and Scott’s guidance.

“Without Helen and Jerry and the Jacobson Program,” says Raz, “I wouldn’t have had a home to incubate the student group and to explore ideas on how to encourage and develop social entrepreneurship in the legal field.”

Karen Brenner
Karen Brenner

Other key elements of the Jacobson Program include transactional courses, in which law and business students analyze real-world transactions—typically with the benefit of guest lectures by attorneys and other professionals who worked on the actual deals being studied—and the program’s third-year capstone seminar, in which Jacobson Scholars develop and present a law and business project. Of the transactional courses, Brenner says, “People love to engage with the students, and the students love the real-world experience coming into the classroom. We’re able to attract great, great talent.”

Mitchell Jacobson and Dean Trevor Morrison at the Mitchell Jacobson tenth anniversary event
Mitchell Jacobson '76 and Dean Trevor Morrison at the 10th anniversary event

The Jacobson Program’s 10th anniversary celebration in October 2017 was well attended by program alumni and current students. As of Fall 2018, the program has graduated 113 Jacobson Scholars and 85 JD/MBA students and 30 Jacobson Scholars and 23 JD/MBA students are currently studying. Summing up the Jacobson Program’s place at the Law School, Dean Trevor Morrison calls it “a signature strength of the Law School that attracts tremendously talented and motivated students to NYU Law, and that helps position them to be true leaders in their careers.”

“From my perspective, the program has fulfilled all the hopes and expectations we had when we first started,” says Rosenfeld. “We’ve gotten terrifically good students involved.” 

Posted January 3, 2018; updated July 25, 2018