Law School to focus on business through institute

The school looks to improve its corporate ties.

by Dina Elrashidy

In an effort to offer its students a program tailored to business law and to strengthen relationships with businesses, the University of Minnesota Law School will open the Corporate Institute in January.

Amid shriveling state funds and a slow move toward privatization, Law School dean David Wippman said he hopes the new institute will eventually help cultivate relationships with businesses and, in turn, donations and other donors to the school.

Just 12 percent of the Law SchoolâÄôs $42 million budget this year came from the state âÄî down 10 percent from 2008. Wippman previously told the Minnesota Daily he expects that number to decrease to single digits in the coming fiscal year.

âÄúWeâÄôre hoping once the institute is active and becomes known, there will be other donors interested,âÄù Wippman said. âÄúWeâÄôd love to see some funds for student scholarships, externships and for hiring faculty.âÄù

University President Eric Kaler has said that improving relationships with businesses may help cope with budget cuts from the state.

âÄúIâÄôve been here for a long time. [Business law] is one of the areas we saw we could increase our efforts,âÄù said John Matheson, who will direct the Corporate Institute.

The first of the instituteâÄôs programs, the Leadership Foundations Program, will begin in January. It will also offer a Master of Laws degree for lawyers focusing on international business.

Matheson said the new institute will foster deeper connections beyond law firms that will give students networking and experiential opportunities.

There has been a rise in studentsâÄô interest in business and corporate law, mirroring a national trend, Matheson said.

The Corporate Institute was funded primarily through donations from a number of corporations and alumni. While donor names will not be revealed until the institute officially launches, Wippman said âÄúone of the major law firms in townâÄù as well as alumni and neighboring businesses are among them.

Matheson said that âÄúall the big names youâÄôd expect to findâÄù will be involved with the new instituteâÄôs program offerings, noting that Minneapolis is home to more than 20 Fortune 500 companies.

Although it isnâÄôt currently named for a specific donor, Wippman added, âÄúIf weâÄôre fortunate enough to find a donor, we would happily name it after that donor.âÄù

Matheson said the seeds of the institute were sown 10 years ago by former Law School dean and current provost Tom Sullivan and Bob Kommerstad, who donated the initial funds for the first business law classes at the University.

âÄúThis is something we should do, and needed to do,âÄù he said. âÄú[It will] connect business and legal people within and outside our community.âÄù

Business law classes have been offered at the Law School for some time, said Assistant Dean of Administration and Finance Patrice Schaus. The new institute will simply consolidate and expand on them, she said.