Cornell Law at Cornell Tech: A Pioneering Program Grows and Students Benefit

by Kenny Berkowitz

At the start of his 3L year, John Koerper ’19 came back to campus, registered in the Law School’s new Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, and found himself working with clients for the first time. “Meeting them was definitely nerve-racking,” says Koerper. “In law school, you learn a lot of theoretical knowledge. You hear about these people called clients, and you understand someday you’re going to represent them. If they’re founders at a start-up, you know it’s going to be their dream project, and it’ll be up to you to help move it forward. But the responsibility that brings doesn’t totally sink in until you’re actually sitting together in the same room.” 

Nearly five years later, working as a corporate associate at Silicon Legal Strategy, Koerper talks about the lead-up to that first interview: The meetings with Celia Bigoness, the founder and director of the clinic. The hours spent digesting binders full of material about start-up law, discussing strategies with co-counsel, sharpening his writing skills, studying proposals from a list of potential clients, learning to use capitalization tables, and researching possible questions about branding, commercial transactions, contracts, employment law, equity, and intellectual property. 

“Every single day, I’m building on things I did in the clinic, and I tell people all the time, ‘This one clinic prepared me more than any other course or clinic I participated in at law school. It was the best experience I had at Cornell.’”

In the years since Bigoness founded the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic in 2018, Cornell Law has been quietly transforming the way it teaches transactional law to J.D. students. That first step, establishing a clinic that focused on transactional law, was followed by a leap to Cornell Tech in New York City, where the Law School launched a semester-long J.D. program in information and technology law to complement its LL.M. in law, technology, and entrepreneurship. 

Now, with a transformational gift from Franci J. Blassberg, A.B. ’75, J.D. ’77, and Joseph L. Rice III, P ’16, Cornell Law is moving to the next stage in its partnership with Cornell Tech: the Blassberg-Rice Center for Entrepreneurship Law, which expands the entrepreneurship law clinic to Roosevelt Island, adds two new practitioners to the faculty, and gives Cornell J.D.s the opportunity to work with New York City start-ups for the first time. 

“We pride ourselves in having professors who think about innovation in the boldest terms,” says Jens David Ohlin, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “But we don’t just have our heads in the clouds. All that abstraction is interwoven with a real-world focus on how the law operates, and that’s what I see at the Center for Entrepreneurship Law. 

“We’re training students to serve actual clients, and we’re doing it at Cornell Tech, which has established itself as the East Coast leader in tech and entrepreneurship,” he continues. “This partnership recognizes the fact that the nature of legal practice is changing and that we need to change with it. Technology has supercharged our economy and it’s rewritten the nature of society and legal practice. That’s what these programs understand: we need to reorient the curriculum to keep pace with fundamental shifts in the world around us.”

Charles Whitehead

At the Law School, that reorientation began about ten years ago, when Ohlin was a junior faculty member and Charles Whitehead, who would become the founding director of Cornell’s Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship LL.M. Program, was envisioning a Cornell Law–Cornell Tech partnership to bring law students closer to the heart of the financial world. That winter, with faculty debating the risks and benefits of joining the new campus—“It was a very intense series of conversations,” remembers Ohlin—the partnership proposal ultimately carried the day and the Law School jumped in with both feet and committed to pioneering an interactive, experiential education in transactional law. 

“When we looked at the Cornell Tech model we thought, ‘This is fantastic for the business students and computer science students—but it’s going to make a lot of sense for law students, too,’” says Whitehead ’83, Myron C. Taylor Alumni Professor of Business Law, who led the program when it opened at Google headquarters in 2016. “First, we designed the law program to build on the best part of an experiential education, combining academic courses with practical skills taught by some of the leading practitioners. Second, we wanted to turn New York City into a classroom, challenging students to think in ways that aren’t necessarily tied to models and theories, but where models and theories can also be tested in application. Third, we deliberately intended to break down silos to teach a different approach to thinking about and understanding the law, to go beyond the lessons a student learns by reading a case book to know how the law works in practice. This was a difficult program to launch and grow, really a first of its kind in legal education. And I think we’ve succeeded at all three.”

“When we looked at the Cornell Tech model we thought, ‘This is fantastic for the business students and computer science students—but it’s going to make a lot of sense for law students, too.”


Looking back, Whitehead points to numerous signs of progress: the growth of the teaching faculty, the expansion of course offerings, the quality of the research being done at Tech, the sense of innovation that drives the campus, the continuing accomplishments of the program’s graduates, and the deepening institutional connections between Cornell Law and Cornell Tech. Whitehead attributes much of it to the unique opportunities it provides to students, ongoing support from the Ithaca campus, the strength of the programs it offers, and in a word, “Matt.”

Matthew D’Amore

Matthew D’Amore arrived at Cornell Tech in 2017 as professor of the practice, following fifteen years as a partner in the New York office of Morrison Foerster, where he represented life sciences and tech companies in disputes over licensing and intellectual property. For seven of those years, he also commuted to work as an adjunct faculty member at the Law School’s Ithaca campus, training students to build their litigation skills, think strategically, and advise corporate clients.

In 2018, he was named Cornell Tech’s associate dean, and the year after that, he took over as director of the Law Technology & Entrepreneurship Program. He has what Whitehead calls “the right background, the right balance, and the right perspective” to helm the organization, and since becoming director, D’Amore has led both the J.D. program, which has five to ten students in residence each semester, and the LL.M. program, which has fifteen to twenty students each year. The two programs share a course catalog, which included twenty-three offerings in 2022–2023, triple the number offered just two years earlier. 

“We are really excited about the curriculum we have built and what it offers to both J.D.s and LL.M.s,” says D’Amore, who teaches technology transactions and trade secrets law, along with overseeing Law Team, a hands-on course that pairs LL.M. students with attorneys in tech and high-growth corporate transactions. “We have courses that help our students practice technology law today, and those that help them envision what it will be like in five or ten years. We have interdisciplinary opportunities that allow the LL.M.s and J.D.s to learn from each other as well as from the M.B.A. and computer science students at Cornell Tech, which is one of the programs’ greatest strengths. And both programs are small, giving students the opportunity to learn from each other and build lasting relationships that will pay dividends as they start their tech-focused practices.” 

James Grimmelmann

For D’Amore, who talks about the benefits of being on a small campus and the closeness that develops between students and faculty, the key is letting each student take their own deep dive into the curriculum. For James Grimmelmann, Tessler Family Professor of Digital and Information Law and Roosevelt Island’s other full-time law faculty, it’s almost the same thing, giving J.D.s “the chance to completely immerse yourself in tech,” taking a fourteen-credit schedule of one-, two-, and three-credit courses that complement one another. 

“When you’re taking two or three courses simultaneously, you get a sense of the big picture that you can’t grasp when you’re only taking one at a time,” says Grimmelmann, who’s been teaching internet law and software law since the program was founded. “You walk out of my intellectual property class, walk into the general counsel class, and next thing you know, you’re thinking about how a general counsel comes up with a company’s IP strategy. That’s the kind of synthesis that happens, and that’s what draws J.D.s here. They’re very bright, very motivated, very creative students who get really passionate about their projects. They’re interested in the role of technology and want to make the maximum impact using the law in good ways. It’s a heady combination of really interesting ideas and really interesting people, all swimming together in the same intellectual atmosphere.” 

That’s exactly why Katie Uihlein ’22 applied to Cornell Law, and that’s exactly what she found when she reached Roosevelt Island as a 3L. “I looked at a lot of other law schools, and there was nothing anywhere like the program at Cornell Tech,” says Uihlein, who works in the Manhattan office of Milbank. “I wanted to understand the intersection of law, business, and technology, and after getting into Cornell and waiting for Tech to reopen after Covid, it suddenly felt so real. I’d made it there in person, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I was in the middle of New York City, on this beautiful, brand-new campus, and I instantly formed connections with people from all different walks of life, because we were all passionate about the same thing.” 

Katie Uihlein ’22

During the pandemic, Uihlein took Cornell Tech courses virtually, including one on intellectual property and another on the law of autonomous vehicles. Then, during one jam-packed semester at Roosevelt Island, she attended D’Amore’s class on Delivering Legal Services through Technology and Grimmelmann’s class on Fundamentals of Modern Software, along with courses on business fundamentals, corporate finance, emerging growth companies, entrepreneurial finance, internet transactions, practical lawyering, and tech management.  

“There’s an entrepreneurial spirit there, which is what I’m all about, so it really felt like I’d found my community,” says Uihlein. “We were all equals, studying as a group, helping each other, networking, talking about our careers, and walking together at graduation. It was all very interdisciplinary, and it challenged us to think in new ways and learn from professors who are way ahead of the curve. I would have stayed if I could, I would have just kept going. It was that good.”

If D’Amore represents legal practice, then Grimmelmann represents legal theory; together, they’re two sides of a double-headed coin. After graduating from Harvard with an A.B. in computer science and from Yale with a J.D., Grimmelmann spent a year as a law clerk before returning to academia, where he’s remained.

Along the way, he’s taught at Georgetown University Law Center, New York Law School, University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, and University of Maryland School of Law, and by the time he arrived at Cornell Tech, he’d already written a casebook on internet law and co-written two others on intellectual property and open-source property. In the years since, he’s regularly collaborated with non-law faculty at Cornell Tech, co-writing papers for law journals and tech journals. According to Whitehead, “James understands where computer science and tech people are coming from in a way that no one else in the law academy can match.”

Now, after joining Cornell Tech as its first full-time law professor, he’s about to welcome its third. The coming school year brings another wave of change, starting with the arrival of Frank Pasquale, an expert on the law of algorithms, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, who’s most widely known as the author of New Laws of Robotics: Defending Human Expertise in the Age of AI. Ohlin calls the appointment “a tremendous addition,” and with the launch of the Blassberg-Rice Center, it’ll be followed by two more hires: a clinical instructor in the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic at Cornell Tech and a clinical instructor at the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic in Ithaca.

Celia Bigoness

Before founding the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic, Celia Bigoness spent seven years in big law, practicing in the New York, London, and Paris offices of Sullivan & Cromwell. Mostly, she focused on project finance, representing owners and lenders on deals so complex they took three or four years to negotiate. (“If you’ve spent years working in the trenches, like Celia has, you’re going to have a lot of experience in transactional law,” says Whitehead.) That kind of real-world experience, paired with its absence in her education at Yale Law, colored Bigoness’ thinking when she started building the program at Cornell. 

“In my practice, I was able to work with partners who took training as seriously as they did client service,” says Bigoness, who became director of the Blassberg-Rice Center for Entrepreneurship Law in March 2023. “They spent a significant amount of time educating me, and I felt incredibly lucky, because my learning curve was so steep the entire time. With this clinic, I’m trying to create the kind of experience I would have benefitted from when I was in law school, back when transactional law clinics weren’t an option.

“In the first five years of the clinic, we’ve had great success,” she continues. “We’ve built a model that’s proven to work, and the one issue we’ve had is the tremendous untapped demand on both the student side and the client side. A clinician can only take on eight or ten students in any given semester, which has given us a long waiting list. Once the new clinicians are hired, we’ll triple the number of students and clients we can reach. We’ll open a new clinic at Tech, which will have its own outward focus to New York City, and we’ll double the size of our clinic in Ithaca. So far, we’ve only been touching the tip of the iceberg in the clients we can serve, and with this gift, that’s about to change.” 

“If you’ve spent years working in the trenches, like Celia has, you’re going to have a lot of experience in transactional ”

Charles Whitehead

Like Bigoness, each of the new clinicians will supervise between eight and ten students a semester, and like Bigoness, they’ll run their courses as miniature law firms, assigning students to work together on each project and collaborating closely on each case, with Bigoness overseeing both locations. Like the Ithaca clinic, the New York City clinic will serve start-up entrepreneurs in the local community, with one focus being on the Dream Hub in Jamaica, Queens, a nonprofit incubator that also partners with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell Weill Medicine, and Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business. 

“It’s an exciting moment for us and taking our Clinical Program to the city is a big step for the Law School,” says Beth Lyon, clinical professor of law, associate dean for experiential education, and Clinical Program director. We have twenty-seven clinics and practicum courses in Ithaca, and now Cornell students at the Tech campus will also be able to use their legal skills to serve the community through clinical training. We’re also thrilled to be joining the vibrant community of clinical legal educators in New York City.”