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First Day of Law School

After eight months of impatiently waiting and two weeks of chaos during orientation, it finally happened. Just Monday I began my first day as a JD-MBA student at Northwestern Law. I can already tell it’s not only going to be an incredible journey but also a long one. For one, I’ve got about 1,000 days until the bar exam, should I decide to take it. I’ve got another 200 or so days until my last day as a 1L. That will be a huge day of celebration. I’ve got about 100 days until my first midterm. I’ve got 2 days until my first “official” bar review. And finally, I’ve got at least another 10-12 hours or so until I can leave the library and go home from school today. I look forward to all of it.

It all started this past Monday, when I began my first class at 8:45 am. Before class, everyone was on Facebook and Twitter posting about heading to their first day of law school. I did the same, and got a really great response from all my facebook friends. My first course was Contracts As a JD-MBA student I love contracts, because the topic sits at the intersection between both business and law. The class will be quite practical in the long run, and even now it makes a lot of sense for me, since I drafted contracts regularly at my old company. The MBA side of me came out right away in the first class, when we were discussing the idea that contracts are “promises”. While most people in the class were talking about friendships and “Moral Obligation” (a term often used in contracts), I couldn’t help but bring up the notion of incentives and how those affect contracts. Personally, I believe that most of what we do in life is driven most by incentives, incentives for money, incentives to be liked, incentives to manage relationships, etc.

After Contracts, we had Torts. More important than why the name of the class is Torts, which I don’t actually know the answer to, is the fact that our professor is a rockstar. Professor Speta is a great speaker, is as sharp as they come, and is definitely a good entertainer. He employs the Socratic method and case method for the entire class and always seems to have an agenda for everything he does, including the specific person he calls on. In fact, he reminds me a lot of the professors I encountered visiting HBS, another school I considered attending.

My last class of the day was Civil Procedure. The class was a lot better than I expected, and a lot less dry as well. In fact, I think it may end up being one of my favorite classes. Although even if it weren’t, I couldn’t say so. Our professor just so happens to be the wife of the school Dean. So we’ve got to be extra nice all semester long.

But more than all the classes, what we did on Monday was get to know our section team members. Northwestern believes that the first step to a great career is having a strong team foundation. Developing relationships with members in your section is an important process. And although that will take time, the fastest way to start this process is through shared experience. This is probably part of why school gives us so much work so quickly.

Coming from a business background as a JD-MBA and former consultant, this topic is not new. Having worked on a couple of human capital engagements in the past, I’m quite familiar with the perceived benefits of shared experiences and with team-building activities. It’s been two days so far, but so far my section seems really great, friendly, and of course, very diverse – a staple of Northwestern Law. I look forward to working with them over the next 9 months.

What’s also great is that the JD-MBAs are pretty evenly spread among all the sections. My section has five or six and the other sections have anywhere from five to eight. While we try and succeed at integrating in the sections during the day, the JD-MBA crowd is very close. We started a Google Group list back in March, so we’ve been in touch daily ever since then. Also, we’ve already had a couple of huge gatherings before school began, including two that I organized and hosted during orientation. It’s definitely going to be a great couple of years together.

But for now, I’ve got to stay grounded in the here-and-now, because I still have massive amounts of reading to do for today, tomorrow, and Friday. It feels like I’m drinking from a fire hose, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. Everybody does.

Anyhow, thanks for reading my first official post as a student. Please keep reading and feel free to comment as I continue to share perspectives on my JD-MBA experience.

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Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009 Law School 3 Comments

Summer Pre-Law Program and My Intro to the Case Method

Ever since high school, I’ve preferred energizing teachers who were entertaining and got me to pay close attention for class. Unfortunately these teachers have sometimes been in the minority, even at Stanford, because many teachers focused more on research more than on their teaching styles. But the good news is that business school and law school are quite different. Both have some pretty unique teaching methods to keep students engaged and participating in class. Among others are the case method courses, learning team discussions, multimedia simulations, experiential learning courses, and interactive lectures. And king among these is the case method.

The case method is a teaching approach that consists of presenting the students with a case putting them in the role of the decision-maker facing a problem. While some schools employ this more than others (for example Harvard Business School and The University of Virginia Darden), many schools do make use of it, and it’s hard to debate that the case method is best at keeping you attentive in class.

In a case discussion, students are forced to constantly pay attention to what’s being said, to continually integrate everything as the class moves forward, to synthesize hours of reading the night before, and to think one-step ahead of the discussion. You do this all while being prepared to jump into the conversation and provide relevant, timely, and insightful comments. This is a complete 180-degree turn from my time at Stanford, where many of my classes were often about professors lecturing for the full class and dumping thousands of facts into our heads.

Most people think the case method exists only in business school, but that’s not true at all. The case method, originally called the casebook method, has been around in law school longer than in business school. For a given class, a professor will assign several cases from the casebook to read, and the professor will ask students questions, pushing students to discuss legal rules and think critically about the ambiguous situations. As part of the experience, students discuss opposing viewpoints, and the professor will debate with students by asking and answering questions (i.e. Socratic Method). This is all done to stimulate thinking, empower students to come up with ideas, and illustrate concepts and theories.

Just last week, I experienced this in my Summer Law Prep Program at Northwestern. The summer prep program is for incoming first year students who want to get a head start on law school before classes actually begin. The program received applications from most of the incoming Northwestern class, and they selected 30 or so participants. We spent the full day, from 9:00am to 4:30pm, taking classes, listening to panels, reading legal cases, and participating in case discussions. During the week we learned from various members of Northwestern Law’s faculty, met with current students, and visited attorneys at the sponsoring law firm based in Chicago. Just this past Wednesday, this law firm was gracious enough to host us at their offices and provide us with a nice meal and chat with us about working in the legal industry.

For me, the program really helped illuminate what it really takes to do well in case discussions. I also noticed how the case discussion at the law school is different from the case discussions in business school. In law school, the discussions tend be a bit more focused than b-school discussions. Also, law students tend to focus on the details of a case, whereas MBAs are more interested in the broader implications. Additionally, in law school the cases are shorter, more technical, and care more about building consensus among differing opinions, whereas business school cases often extend for an entire class, are more cross-functional in nature, and value the individual perspectives.

That said, the one similarity I found is that for the truly engaged participant, the case method can help to refine your professional leadership style. Think about it for a second. Just like working the real world, as a student you have to analyze a variety of difficult issues and engage in high-stakes discussions where the results that have complex economic and political effects. In preparation for the discussion before class, you have to uncover the issues at hand, develop supporting analysis, and come up with recommendations, all under time pressure and with limited information available.

In the classroom, you must articulate your response in front of smart and sometimes critical classmates, most who have different perspectives than you and many whom you want to impress. These are the experiences business and legal leaders go through every day, and in a case discussion, you get the chance to practice that over and over again. I am excited to take these these types of courses at both business and law school. And I’m thankful to have a head start because of my summer program at Northwestern.

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Monday, August 24th, 2009 Law School, Leadership No Comments

Kellogg and HBS


For everyone who knows anything about business school reputations, you know that Kellogg and Harvard Business School (HBS) have something in common–they’re often seen to be the “soft skills” schools. This has both positive and negative connotations. On the positive side, both schools are praised for teaching interpersonal skills, teamwork, and leadership ability. Conversely, both schools are also considered programs where you don’t need to take any real finance courses or have quantitative skills to get through, despite the number of folks who actually do go into the finance industry.

Recently at a Bain recruiting event I went to, one of the firm’s senior managers made a pretty funny comment during a panel. He was facilitating a session where we were chatting about how to get into the consulting industry, and he asked, “So how many of you out there are going to HBS or Kellogg?” A good number us put our hands up. Then he told us, “My best advice to you is, please, try to take a lot of finance classes. Because you won’t get them otherwise” Everyone in the room chuckled.

Admittedly he was joking with us a bit, but he was also definitely serious. While he told us that we didn’t necessarily need the classes to land a consulting job, he also said that the classes would be the most beneficial courses in the long run. He told us-—and it’s something we’ve all heard before—-that finance is the language of business. And if we ever want to move to the top floor, then we’d better understand every aspect of finance. He then talked a bit about the CEOs close relationship with the CFO and compared it to the CEOs relationship and trust level with other top executives. He seemed to have a pretty good point.

Despite a pretty persuasive argument, I also think it’s fair to note that Bain is pretty finance-oriented compared to some of the other major firms, so his opinion was probably a bit biased. Bain has the biggest private equity arm (by far) of the consulting firms, and it also has things such as the Bain Capital investment spin-off and a turnarounds/restructuring group, both which operate based on financial analytics.

That said, I still think it’s solid advice. While I don’t consider myself to be a finance person and am not going to b-school specifically for that reason, I do think someone with his experience has really valuable insight, and I’ll probably pick up some extra finance courses more than I might otherwise have taken. Kellogg’s most famous class is Entrepreneurial Finance, which I will definitely take.

The comment also shows that despite the strong brand of both these schools and the caliber of the students, reputation will play a part in how we are perceived in the workforce, good and bad. And conversely, despite the fact that dozens of other schools teach the soft skills very well (too many to name), those school don’t get the reputation for it that Kellogg and HBS get.

Personally, I really value the “soft skills,” so as an applicant I really liked the brands of both HBS and Kellogg. I am excited to be headed to Kellogg and the JD-MBA program this fall.

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Thursday, July 30th, 2009 Business School 7 Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.

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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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