First-year law students build business savvy

On Day One, the law students plunged into value chains, business models and corporate financial statements. Over a week of team exercises and working lunches, they explored funding mechanisms, merger pitfalls, client service and risk management. On the fifth day, they pitched an airline’s corporate board on acquiring a competitor — and faced grilling over such details as meshing cultures, dealing with potential layoffs, combining fleets and marketing to a new audience.
Tulane Law School’s new Business Literacy boot camp for first-year students packed an introduction to the business world into an intensive week that wove expert presentations with case studies, group assignments and discussions with business executives.

To cap off an intensive week of Business Literacy boot camp, first-year Tulane Law students Charlie Draughter, with teammates Katie Dye (top left), Joslyn Love and Benjamin Drew (front), pitch the sale of an airline to a mock corporate board that included former JetBlue CFO Mark Powers (below).

A collaboration between the law school and Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business, the new course launched in January with an airline purchase as its first real-world scenario. To provide real-world insights, recently retired JetBlue Chief Financial Officer Mark Powers, who is teaching financial management at the business school, lectured on the industry and served as a “board member” for the final presentations. Students also heard from Trey Fayard, chief executive officer of GLO Airlines, the regional start-up operating out of New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport, and Gay Le Breton, managing director of Chaffe & Associates’ mergers and acquisitions group.
“I loved being able to dive into an industry that I knew little about,” said Katie Dye (L ’19), who has an anthropology degree and was among the 42 1Ls who took the course. “Being able to pitch the acquisition of Virgin America by JetBlue to the former CFO of JetBlue, who actually worked on the deal in real life, was phenomenal.”
Powers said students were thrown in “on the deep end” but picked up the material quickly and showed skill, talent and confidence in making presentations not unlike what he was doing before his own board not long ago.
“I was impressed with how they were able to come together as teams and put together a compelling pitch and pick the right issues,” he said.
Vice Dean Onnig Dombalagian, who helped design the program, said a key goal was helping students “think about why their clients make the decisions they do.”

Vice Dean Onnig Dombalagian helped develop and teach Tulane Law’s new Business Literacy boot camp, a collaboration with the A.B. Freeman School of Business.

Law school classes typically focus on how lawyers can advance their clients’ interests. And other skills-building offerings, such as Tulane’s Intersession boot camp for second- and third-year students, cover the mechanics of drafting business documents and closing deals. Trial advocacy teaches litigation tools. But a course that puts law students in the role of business consultant helps them see pressures and opportunities from the client’s perspective, Dombalagian said.

The course accepts only first-year students with no business background and aims to help them sort out potential career interests. 
“I learned that there is far more to the legal practice in a business setting than just drafting contracts,” Dye said.
Business Literacy, which runs the same week in early January as Tulane Law’s upper-level boot camp, has further expanded the growing business law curriculum. Other offerings featuring premier corporate attorneys as instructors include a business planning course taught by John Herbert (L ’77), outside general counsel to Ceritas Energy, and a new contract drafting class with Lee Sher (L ’76), a top transactions lawyer and co-founder of Sher Garner Cahill Richter Klein & Hilbert.

Grace Hancock and Ben Russell (both L ’19) make their final presentation on an airline sale proposal.

Douglas McKeige (L ’86) and other alumni are working with the school to develop and financially support programs like this to provide a working knowledge of areas including corporate finance, securities markets, balance sheets, income statements and private equity. McKeige formerly managed both a leading securities litigation firm and a major hedge fund before founding his own investor-litigation boutique, The McKeige Law Firm.
Tulane Law Clinical Instructor Elizabeth Calderón (L ’98) said that, in helping design the Business Literacy course, she called on her experience going into commercial bankruptcy and restructuring practice directly out of law school without a business background. With this foundation, students are a step ahead as they prepare for summer jobs and careers after graduation.
“What I really want for them is to start learning a language that they can use when they’re engaging with potential employers and potential clients,” Calderón said.