By Arielle Friehling, J.D. ’17
I came to Harvard entirely sure that I wanted to attend law school and entirely unsure of what I would do with my legal education. I entered 1L year hopeful that something in class would suddenly call out to me and lead me directly to a career path. Unfortunately, I failed to take into account the theoretical focus and survey style of the first year curriculum.
So when the Student Activities Fair arrived, I reveled in the opportunity to explore options outside the classroom. My goal was to get hands-on experience and learn about new areas of law. I left the Fair with a handful of brochures and my name on a dozen email lists.
Fortunately, I stuck with the Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project, despite its lack of an obvious and catchy acronym (“HLEP,” how do I pronounce that?). Within a few weeks, I was in charge of four other law students – including two 2Ls – and under the supervision of a practicing attorney on a client project team. After a long day of briefing cases and discussing the occasional absurd hypothetical, I got to work on a real client matter, addressing questions whose answers would determine the trajectory of a real business, and interfacing with a real entrepreneur whose charisma and innovative spirit I greatly admired.
It took only as long as my first client meeting to decide that these are the kinds of clients I want to work with in my career. Beyond being intelligent, hardworking, and sensible, my client believed in his company. Listening to him explain his business plan, market research, and product development, I couldn’t help but get excited about his startup. Here was this talented innovator trying to create something incredible, yet he felt inhibited by the looming storm cloud that is the law.
I finally saw where I could fit into the legal profession: I may not be an idea person myself, but I am inspired by those who are, and I want to help them create things by taking the legal concerns off their overly-crowded plates.
For this project, my team researched international trade law, tariffs, and import regulations, after anticipating patent and trademark questions based on the client’s application (my first exposure to the fairly standard occurrence in startup advising where a quick legal consultation reveals myriad previously unrecognized issues). After a successful advisory relationship, I decided to take on a leadership role where I supported a group of team leads as they managed their client projects, researching issues ranging from corporate form to equity division to intellectual property protection.
Since last December, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as President of HLEP (pronounced ‘H’-Lep, I’ve learned), during which time I’ve worked to give new members the chance to experience the “a-ha” moment I felt when I worked with my first client.