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New legal program to support students

MIT and Boston University School of Law launch innovative collaboration in business and cyber law.
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MIT and Boston University School of Law are joining forces on a new program intended to assist students with a broad range of legal matters related to entrepreneurship and cyber law, from basic issues associated with the founding of startup companies to novel questions about the application of laws and regulations to students’ innovation-related activities.

President L. Rafael Reif announced the news today in an email to the MIT community.

“By providing our students with the legal guidance to navigate the complexities of starting or running a business, the clinics will give them the freedom and confidence to focus on what they do best: creating innovative ideas, technologies and companies,” Reif wrote. “At MIT, we believe in our students’ potential to change the world, and we want to equip them with the tools to make an impact. These clinics will provide our students with an important new resource for pursuing their dreams and aspirations.”

The new collaboration stems from events in 2014, when MIT students, who had won a hackathon award for developing a proof-of-concept code for harvesting bitcoins, were subpoenaed by New Jersey’s attorney general to turn over information relating to the project. In the wake of that development, Reif sent a letter to the MIT community stating that the Institute would work to develop a “resource for independent legal advice” that students could use in such situations.

The arrangement between MIT and BU is conceived as a complementary one: The collaboration will consist of two separate academic law clinics, in which BU’s law students, under the direction of experienced law instructors and free of charge, will advise students from either MIT or BU about legal issues associated with their entrepreneurial and innovation-related efforts.

“The partnership between MIT and Boston University School of Law will benefit students at both institutions while advancing MIT’s culture of innovation and entrepreneurship,” Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart says. “This is an important step forward in our efforts to support all MIT students as they imagine, innovate, and create.”

The project meets a growing need for legal knowledge among innovation-based entrepreneurs and technology researchers, especially students attempting to build businesses out of their academic activities. For their part, BU law students who are interested in legal questions related to startups and novel technologies are expected to benefit from access to MIT’s strongly entrepreneurial culture.

“We’re thrilled to partner with MIT on these cutting-edge new law clinics,” says BU Law Dean Maureen A. O’Rourke. “Our Intellectual Property Program has long been recognized as one of the best in the country, and this addition will give students the kind of practical, hands-on experience working with real clients that will prove invaluable as they begin their careers.”

A law clinic is a common type of program that generates experience for law students while providing services for clients. Students will have access to each clinic at both BU and, on the MIT campus, at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

One part of the program, the Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property Clinic, is opening its doors this month, under the direction of Professor Eve J. Brown, an expert in innovation law at BU; eight BU law students will participate this academic year. Some of the issues expected to be central to the clinic include establishing and financing new companies, intellectual property, and contracts.

The other half of the collaboration, the Technology and Cyberlaw Clinic, is expected to begin operations in 2016, with its own director. It is expected to focus on the impact of laws related to topics such as communications, data security, and privacy on students’ innovation-driven academic and extracurricular activities. 

The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship offers a variety of programs and tools to help MIT students, faculty, staff, and alumni develop knowledge and skills as entrepreneurs.

Press Mentions

BetaBoston

Nihdi Subbaraman reports for BetaBoston on the legal clinics MIT and BU have started providing to student entrepreneurs. “The Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property Clinic is intended to serve as a place where startup founders can seek basic advice about how to register their company or how to distribute ownership to multiple founders,” writes Subbaraman. 

Associated Press

MIT and BU have joined forces to offer students entrepreneurs legal advice, the Associated Press reports. "It's almost like a godsend," says MIT sophomore Isaiah Udotong, who is starting his own company. "We were looking for legal advice and wondering how we were going to make sure everything is legitimate."

BostInno

BostInno reporter Dylan Martin writes about how MIT and BU have formed a new partnership to provide students with a source of legal advice on technology and business issues. “BU law students will provide free legal advice and representation to MIT and BU students who either want to start their own business or are already involved with a startup.”

BU Daily Free Press

Daily Free Press reporters Keela Sweeney and Christy Osler write that MIT and BU are collaborating on a new program to assist students with legal issues related to business and innovation. “This is an important step forward in our efforts to support all MIT students as they imagine, innovate and create,” says MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart.

National Law Journal

MIT and BU are teaming up on a new effort to provide legal clinics for students needing assistance with startups or technology projects, reports Karen Sloan for The National Law Journal. While entrepreneurship clinics are a growing trend at law schools, writes Sloan, “the cross-university component of MIT and Boston Law’s new clinic is unusual."

The Tech

MIT and Boston University are joining forces to provide law clinics for student entrepreneurs looking for legal advice, reports Katherine Nazemi for The Tech. “There’s opportunity for students to drop in and say ‘I don’t know if I need help or not, but this is what I’m doing, what do you think?’” explains Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart.

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