Alumni Perspective: Teaming up with law school students to pitch a social enterprise

Vasco Bilbao-Bastida, a recent graduate of the Wharton MBA/MA joint degree Lauder Program, shares his experience working with law school students to pitch a social enterprise addressing access to justice as part of LawWithoutWalls.

Beyond its clear impact in congressional bills and Supreme Court cases, the rule of law also affects everyday aspects of modern society and business, such as setting up a corporation, applying for a patent, or founding a non-profit.

Though a misconception exists that the legal profession is staid, it is actually very dynamic, continuously evolving to better respond to the needs of an increasingly complex world.

An easily overlooked aspect of the legal profession is that its improvement and better use have the potential for positive social impact.

This is where LawWithoutWalls comes in.

Founded and led by Michele DeStefano and coordinated by her team at the University of Miami School of Law, LWOW is described on its website as “a part-virtual, global, multi-disciplinary collaboratory that focuses on tackling the cutting edge issues at the intersection of law, business, technology, and innovation.”

Students posed at the 2014 LawWithoutWalls ConPosium. Photo Credit: Jenny Abreu
Students posed at the 2014 LawWithoutWalls ConPosium. Photo Credit: Jenny Abreu

LawWithoutWalls is a semester-long course in which law and business school students come together in teams, and work to devise ways to improve legal education and practice. The semester begins in January with team introductions at a two-day kick off event, and continues with weekly interactive virtual classes and team meetings involving students, mentors, advisors, and other community participants. The experience ends with presentations at a ConPosium, held in April of every year at the University of Miami School of Law.

My team had three students: a third-year law school student from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; a second-year law school student from the University of Miami; and myself representing Wharton. Committed mentors from academic, entrepreneurial, and practitioner background joined us on weekly calls to support us throughout the semester. These mentors, as well as an alumni advisor, were eager to volunteer time to help us gain a deeper understanding of our topics, make introductions to other experts, and challenge us as we refined our project.

Our assigned topic was “Increasing Access to Justice and Creating New Models of Regulation: How Can the Two Go Hand-in-Hand?” With such a broad topic, we decided to narrow the scope to recently passed legislation in New York that requires bar applicants to complete 50 hours of pro bono service.

After weeks of research, interviews with experts, and various mock-ups, we pitched a social media platform that would allow users to identify pro bono opportunities, track and certify completed pro bono hours, and seek professional endorsements. By making the whole process easier, our idea would incentivize users to go beyond the minimum pro bono requirement, increasing access to justice, and encouraging a social media shift away from #selfie to #selfless.

Of of the best aspects of this course, is that LawWithoutWalls brings together law and business school students from around the world.  This experience appealed to me for the hands-on opportunity to pitch a social enterprise and the chance to join a vibrant community of smart, accomplished, and passionate people from diverse backgrounds.

Vasco Bilbao-BastidaVasco Bilbao-Bastida (WG’14, G’14) graduated with an MBA in Strategic Management and Social Impact from the Wharton School and an MA in International Studies with a focus on Latin America and Portuguese from the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. Before business school, Vasco worked at the Linden Trust for Conservation on projects in environmental markets and conservation finance, including work on the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) Program. He also previously worked at J.P. Morgan Securities in sales & trading and completed a Princeton in Asia teaching fellowship in rural Japan.