This firm is partnering with law students for new business ideas

The logo of law firm Troutman Pepper at their legal offices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Troutman Pepper teams up with the University of Richmond School of Law for "legal design challenge"
  • Students work with attorneys and staff to identify and develop new revenue-generating opportunities

(Reuters) - Attorneys and staff from Troutman Pepper will spend the spring semester working alongside University of Richmond law students to identify potential new markets and ways to improve the way it operates.

Troutman Pepper has been named Richmond Law’s new “innovator-in-residence” and will be a key partner in its Legal Business Design Challenge — a course that debuted last year which exposes law students to the structure and business model of large law firms as they develop ways to improve law firm functions and client services.

Will Gaus, chief innovation officer at Troutman Pepper, said in an interview this week that he was drawn to Richmond’s program because it’s a true collaboration between the firm and the law students, with about a dozen attorneys and staff participating on a weekly basis. The course will give Troutman Pepper a better sense of what’s important to the next generation of lawyers and potentially identify business improvements, while also giving law students an understanding of how firms work, he said.

“I want students to be exposed to the industry and a firm so that they can make the best choice for themselves moving forward, and help them guide their career path,” he said.

The design challenge course, for second and third-year students, will begin with an introduction to the law firm business model and the principles behind business design — an approach that centers on how every element of a business affects clients. Then the students will break into teams that include participants from Troutman Pepper, to identify new business opportunities or ways to improve client services. They will develop those ideas into an actionable plan and pitch it to firm leaders at the end of the class in the hope that some will be implemented.

“The real meat of it is going to be the legal design challenge,” Gaus said. “Through this interaction between the firm and students, the students will help us identify a number of areas that they think we need to solve — areas that the firm can improve on or move the needle on.”

But Troutman Pepper won’t come into the collaboration telling students what areas they should focus on, said Josh Kubicki, Richmond Law’s director of legal innovation and entrepreneurship, who is running the class. Instead, the students will take the lead in identifying areas for potential development or improvement.

Last year Baker Donelson was the partner law firm. Teams pitched projects that would enable the firm to better integrate diversity and inclusion training into its labor and employment offerings, and the creation of a tool that would help clients track the regulatory developments of greatest concern to them. Kubicki said the first class was a success even though Baker Donelson has yet to implement those projects because the firm stayed engaged throughout the design process and the students created projects that were both innovative and realistic.

“I want students to be business-ready lawyers when they leave,” he said. “I want them to know all the core components of a business model and how they interact, so they can serve their clients better. Those things aren’t really taught in law school.”

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com