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‘Boot camp’ provides law students with business and finance fundamentals

Penn State Law's new three-day business 'boot camp' provides law students with a broad understanding of the fundamental business and finance concepts that regularly arise in the representation of a business enterprise.
Tom Sharbaugh | Penn State Law

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State Law offered a new business principles “boot camp” this semester for second- and third-year J.D. students and LL.M. students to gain a broad understanding of fundamental business and finance concepts. Offered over three days just before the start of the spring semester, Business and Financial Concepts was taught by Marie Reilly, professor of law, and Tom Sharbaugh, professor from practice.

The course was designed to provide students with a basic familiarity with concepts that regularly arise in the representation of a business enterprise, whether in litigation or transactional matters. It also provides information for law students about business issues that are common to legal practice but underexplored during the first year of law school.

“Knowledge of business fundamentals is an essential skill for lawyers who represent businesses in transactions and litigation,” said Reilly, a scholar of commercial law, bankruptcy, and corporate law. “Demand for attorneys with business savvy has always been strong. For new lawyers, a solid understanding of business and finance fundamentals is a big competitive advantage. ”

The course offers students an overview of various common business entities, equity securities, and common forms of business debt. Students consider the basic legal environment of business enterprise, including taxation, securities, and investor protection regulation. The course also provides an overview of financial statements and basic accounting principles, valuation techniques, and other financial tools for decision making. 

“Business and financial literacy is essential not only for lawyers who regularly represent or work for business entities, but also for lawyers engaged in most regulatory and litigation practices,” said Sharbaugh, who brings 35 years of business law experience to the classroom. “Almost all attorneys will be involved with financial and business issues in their practice throughout their careers.”

A recent survey of 300 law firms by Lexis Nexis polled respondents about which skills they view as most important for entry-level lawyers. In the transactional category, the skill that received the most votes, among the 15 choices, was “know fundamental financial and business concepts.”

“Clients always look for lawyers who can understand their businesses and work creatively to find solutions to their problems,” said Reilly. “The information and skills we present in this course will help students get more out of their law school coursework by helping them connect what they learn in class with the business and financial situations and issues their future clients will face.”

Beyond business law, these skills will be a boon for attorneys in a broad range of practice areas. For example, a lawyer handling a divorce settlement could be required to analyze a host of business information, such as the structure and value of a closely held business or the present value of a proposed stream of future payments over time.

“Business acumen is a must for attorneys in today’s legal market,” said third-year student James Gorman, who took the short course to round out his legal education and make himself more appealing to employers. “Law firms and clients both want attorneys who understand business concepts almost as much as the legal issues surrounding them.”

Gorman’s classmate, second-year student Michelle Sekuras, believes the course will be helpful in even more ways, beyond her career in law.

“These are everyday concepts that will be important in so many aspects of our lives,” she said. “Having a firm understanding of mortgages, finance, and other common business products and practices is going to be valuable in life as well as in our profession.”

In-house counsel panel | Penn State Law

In addition to coursework, the boot camp also featured a panel discussion with a group of seasoned in-house counsels, who shared insights from their careers and discussed the role of in-house counsel in corporations. Moderated by Adjunct Professor of Law Vincent Dadamo, the panel featured Penn State alumni Domenick DiCicco, global general counsel for Cunningham Lindsey, and David Holl, former chief operating officer, vice president, and associate general counsel for GMAC Commercial Mortgage Corp., along with Leslie Turner, senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary for The Hershey Co.

About the Business and Financial Concepts Faculty
Professor of Law Marie Reilly teaches Bankruptcy and has taught Sales, Secured Transactions, Payment Systems, and Contracts. Prior to joining Penn State Law, she was a member of the faculty of University of South Carolina School of Law and has practiced law in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Reilly is an elected member of the American Law Institute and serves on the Advisory Board for the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review. She is a member of the American Association of Law Schools Section on Bankruptcy, the American Law and Economics Association, the American Bankruptcy Institute, and the American Bar Association.

Until last year, Professor from Practice Tom Sharbaugh was the firm-wide managing partner of operations at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, based in Philadelphia, where he was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the global law firm with more than 3,100 personnel. As a partner in the firm's Business & Finance Practice Group, he represented a wide variety of clients in transactional and corporate matters, including private equity funds in M&A and investment transactions. He has a particular interest in start-up and early stage businesses and their funding and has taught other business-related courses at Penn State Law. 

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