Learning Groupon in law school

Larry Ribstein —  3 April 2011

The March-April University of Chicago magazine discusses a class at Booth on online entrepreneurship co-taught by Groupon cofounders Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell. The article says

each received law degrees [from Michigan] in 1993.  Law school, Keywell says, “is one of the great mechanisms for understanding how to think critically about the world,” and essential to his success, he believes, because a focus on business would have been too narrow. Taking that path, Lefkofsky and Keywell say, also gave them a detachment helpful for entrepreneurial success.

I have written about how law school could be structured to help graduates succeed in what Kobayashi & I call the legal information industry. My article also discusses how law school could be designed to help lawyers work with other specialists, including business people. It follows that law school could help business people to think like lawyers, a valuable skill in this highly regulated world. 

Lefkofsky and Keywell suggest that law school already teaches business people how to be better at business.  If that’s true, we legal educators might try to isolate the aspects of “thinking like a lawyer” that are generally useful for business people and others, including doctors, accountants, engineers, etc.  This might include critical thinking and detachment.  Law schools then could extend their reach by bottling their essence and marketing it beyond those who want to be “lawyers.” That’s a nice thought in these days of declining law school applications. 

But I think law school has a lot yet to do to accomplish this, despite Lefkofsky and Keywell’s endorsement.  The UC Magazine story notes that Groupon evolved from a failure, the Point with a similar “tipping point” concept, only for non-profit social organization.  The article says “the trick that distinguishes the Point’s dud firecracker from Groupon’s rocket launch remains ambiguous even to [Lefkofsky and Keywell].”

Maybe Lefkofsky and Keywell are confused because they went to law school.  Wouldn’t it be obvious to a non-lawyer that adding a financial incentive would turn a failure into a success? That’s something we don’t (yet) teach in law school.

Larry Ribstein


Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law

2 responses to Learning Groupon in law school


    A recent discussion among some of the faculty in our MBA program identified that the MBA/JD students are far and away superior in their critical thinking skills. This may be partly attributable to the Socratic method used in law school classrooms, but I think there is also some selection bias among those interested in pursuing a law degree versus those getting an MBA. I suspect both play a role.

    I am less convinced about the idea of ‘teaching business people to think like lawyers’ than about the idea of teaching business people to think critically, which happens to be how lawyers tend to think, but certainly not something that is exclusive to lawyers or legal training.

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