By Joe Sweeny, 3L
Every fall semester, Maryland Carey Law offers a three-week course titled “Business Law Boot Camp.” Enrollment is highly competitive, and it is rare to see a single empty seat in the lecture hall.
Students vie for a chance to take this class because we recognize the tangible, real world value an understanding of core business principles provides future attorneys. We understand that business decisions often intersect with legal strategies. For example:
Attorneys specializing in business law, whether in contract drafting, tax law, in-house counsel work, commercial litigation, corporate governance, or corporate finance, will need a working knowledge of fundamental business concepts if they are to offer competent advice on the consequences of certain business transactions. The Business Law Boot Camp provides law students with a foundational working knowledge and more. The class is broken down into separate components, addressing one particular business topic at a time.
LEARNING THE BASICS
Throughout the course, we fleshed out the meaning and significance of key business terms and where a lawyer’s role might come into play. We learned about balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements, and statements of shareholder’s equity—lawyers need to be able to read these financials and apply certain ratios to understand the short-term and long-term viability of a client’s enterprise.
We learned about the Securities and Exchange Commission’s yearly or quarterly financial reporting requirements to ensure transparency and promote an environment of full disclosure. Lawyers need to ensure their clients are dotting their I’s and crossing their t’s when it comes to local, state, and federal regulations.
We learned about partnerships, LLC’s, LLP’s, closely held and public corporations. Lawyers need to be able to advise their clients on the costs and benefits of certain organizational structures including but not limited to limited liability, pass-through taxation, double taxation, liquidation burdens and loopholes, stock issuances, mergers and acquisitions, and the rights or privileges vis-à-vis the shareholder/director relationship.
We learned about the importance of clarity in drafting contracts. Lawyers need to draft to mitigate risk, and an appreciation of precedential court decisions revolving around contract interpretation is an integral asset for the business lawyer to harness.
We learned about the subtle but extremely important distinctions between representations, warranties, covenants, conditions and the legal consequences thereof. Lawyers need to advise clients that certain words or phrases expose an entity to different types of liabilities, depending on the transaction at issue.
In addition to rudimentary discussion of business basics, we were honored to have guest speakers come to class and give us valuable insight into the practice that lies beyond the theory. We were at no shortage of heavy hitters.
The Dean of our law school, Donald Tobin, served as an appellate attorney in the Tax Division of the U.S. Justice Department. He taught a segment of the boot camp focusing on the nature of federal individual income taxation: marginal tax rates, the meaning of gross income, Code deductions, and credits.
A senior associate and partner from Deloitte, one of the ‘Big Four’ international professional services firms, taught a segment focusing on reading financial statements. Deloitte’s lesson was extremely hands on, offering us the chance to read hypothetical financial statements, calculate certain financial ratios, and offer mock advice for a firm seeking to engage in a relevant business transaction.
Last but not least, Ronald Shapiro, a world-renowned sports agent, attorney, New York Times best-selling author, educator, speaker, civic leader, and expert negotiator taught a segment focusing on negotiation. Students were able to gather advice on how to negotiate for their client from a man whose daily life consists of finalizing multimillion-dollar deals.
Overall, the boot camp gave us a much-needed dose of business education, relevant and applicable to virtually every area of law we intend to specialize in. It is no wonder why Business Law Boot Camp is such a sought after course, and I would expect to see this trend continue indefinitely as the legal market’s demand for business-competent lawyers steadily increases year in and year out.