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Colleges Creating Law Clinics to Help Student Startups

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on October 01, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The law is generally not a major concern for young tech geeks dreaming of being the next Mark Zuckerburg. But sometimes, long before the first billion is made, student startups hit a snag. A serious snag -- like a state attorney general's investigation.

That is what happened to some students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who found themselves under investigation by New Jersey. Their promising software was accused of hijacking computers. Instead of developing an investment strategy, the students found themselves under investigation. Ultimately, no one was charged with a crime but the experience taught MIT to think different about the law.

Lawyers, Not Partners in Crime

The engineering school partnered with neighboring Boston University -- just across the River Charles -- to create legal clinics that help young innovators. Having a novel idea is great and turning it into something tangible is amazing. But behind every entrepreneur in the real world, there is at least one lawyer, if not more.

As students are increasingly developing and starting businesses while still on campus, schools are trying to provide them with some guidance on intellectual property, working with investors, and other legal issues implicated by innovation.

"There is this increasing interest among our students to engage in innovation and entrepreneurial activities," MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barhardt told the Associated Press. "MIT students needed exactly these kinds of services."

The Next Facebook

"These clinics are growing because there's an unmet need," said James Greif, a spokesman for the Association of American Law Schools. "Patent applications have tripled over the last 20 years, and small businesses make up about half of the private sector in the U.S."

The college campus legal clinics serve many purposes. They help law students gain valuable work experience and provide young innovators free legal advice. They also help schools, whose reputations are boosted when a student startup hits it big. "Who doesn't want to say that they were responsible in some way for the next Google or Facebook," asked Grief.

If you're thinking about going forward with a startup idea, you may want to contact a lawyer in your area for assistance.

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