BY KRISTEN NELSON
Listening to ABBA, munching on pizza and watching the premiere of a student-made mockumentary is not the typical way to spend a two-hour Corporations class in early December at Harvard Law School. Nor is it the way a traditional corporation is likely to host its Initial Private Offering. Then again, Prof. Jon Hanson’s Corporations course is widely known for being anything but typical, and Deep Capture Corp., the student-owned and operated corporation whose IPO took place in Austin West last December, is the latest uncommon company to emerge from the class.
For the past three years, Hanson has encouraged his Corporations class to start its own business, and solicited ideas from interested students. This year, a core group of about ten students took on the challenge, and soon, Deep Capture Corp. — named after Hanson’s theory that people, the law, and our institutions are “deeply captured” by corporate business interests and the pursuit of profit — was officially born. The sole purpose of the corporation is to produce a book entitled Getting Out of Harvard Law School.
Though it might seem odd to form a corporation simply to make a book, Deep Capture CEO Kristy Greenberg, a 2L, explained, “The idea was that in putting together and marketing the book we could learn how to practically implement some of the things we were learning in class.”
Greenberg initially suggested the idea of creating a book with a collection of war stories about the fall recruiting process. “Given how intense the job search process was, I thought it would be useful for everyone to reflect on their goals and values before making their decisions,” she said. The class selected her general proposal from a number of others. From there the concept of the book gradually took a different shape through discussions with other class members.
The final concept was a book that promises to be a diverse collection of submissions by past and present students about their law school experiences and what they are “getting out of” HLS, a phrase the corporation intends to be liberally construed. Deep Capture aims to market the book to a varied audience, from potential law school applicants to alums looking to make a career change to anyone with a curiosity as to how professional schools influence their students.
After several months of planning, the corporation’s Board of Directors executed an in-class IPO party to sell shares of the company to their fellow students, complete with food, drink, music and a presentation on the financing of corporations by former Goldman Sachs investment banker and 2L Brian Blais.
Amy Gutman ’93, a former Cravath associate turned novelist, made a guest appearance and read a short piece she had written on her own quest to “get out of” Harvard Law School and the traditional career path she initially took upon graduation.
The event culminated with the premiere of Robert and Me, an HLS spoof of Michael Moore’s darkly comedic documentary Roger and Me, which details the devastating social cost of General Motors’ decision to close its plant in Flint, Michigan in the mid-1980s and Moore’s quest to meet and interview camera-shy GM CEO Roger Smith.
Deep Capture’s parody of the movie was filmed by 2L Donovan Rinker-Morris, and featured 2L Will Stephens as the modern-day Moore searching for the ever-elusive Dean Robert Clark in a quest to invite him to the IPO.
To Stephens, the IPO was “definitely the best thing I’ve been involved with at the law school.” He added, “I was so amazed at the various talents that people who helped put together the IPO exhibited. Prof. Hanson had always told us in class that he was amazed at the level and variety of talent that Harvard Law students possess — talents that are not drawn upon by the usual law school activities. He was so right.”
Hanson has long been known for taking an unconventional approach towards teaching relatively mundane legal subjects like Corporations and Torts. For instance, he incorporates skits, dramatic readings of famous judicial opinions and even jugglers into his teaching. He sometimes brings his children to class and tells “war stories,” not about law practice, but about his home life. And he openly encourages students to examine their personal and professional lives and the effects that HLS and corporate lawyering may be having on them.
Hanson said that when he first had the idea, it was mostly “just a fun way of answering some basic questions about the incorporation process.” But over time, the concept grew. “The more I thought about it and the more I saw the enthusiastic response of students, the more I realized it was a great opportunity to do something meaningful with the class. The Law School could use more classroom activities that bring students together working cooperatively not competitively. One of the things I like about setting up and running a corporation is that there are many places in a corporation for students with different talents, skills and entrepreneurial inclinations to put them to use.”
Corporations that have originated out of the course in years past include Class Action, Inc., which created a short film compiling clips from Hollywood movies that included mention of HLS, and Punctilio, Inc., whose primary product is the justadvocates.com website. The site serves as a resource for students interested in pursuing work at private public interest and plaintiff-side firms.
While Hanson gives students free reign to make the project their own, he also encourages them “to do something that contributes to the HLS community.” In addition, the corporations are meant to be collaborative projects highlighting students’ different talents. “The idea behind the [class-created] corporations has been that they are a reminder and an example of how students might approach their own careers,” he explained. “Students are using their entrepreneurial talents that are law-related but don’t necessarily require a lot of detailed legal knowledge. This is a model I hope will be useful for students in thinking creatively about their careers.”
Deep Capture’s book is intended both to showcase the diversity of career options available to HLS graduates as well as to solicit creatively narrated submissions of various lengths and formats. Hanson’s hopes for the book are that it will convey a sense of “the non-traditional paths that HLS students and graduates take, and how they take them.”
Two-L Sharon Kelly of Deep Capture explained further, “Getting out of Harvard Law School can be construed as broadly as people want it to be. People can submit anything from funny stories about a weekend road trip that ‘got them out of HLS’ to what they’ve gotten out of their education generally to comical stories about recruiting.”
The book may also be an opportunity for past and present students to reflect on the ways in which law school has shaped them. “If it is successful, the book will locate some of the forces that push students in certain directions by showing the significant influences we collectively experience while here,” said 2L Tanya Monforte. “There are serious power dynamics at work transforming the way we think and see the world, and though we do go to school to learn, we ought to be more conscious about which forces are shaping the way we see the law and ourselves.”
The Deep Capture Board of Directors is actively soliciting submissions from current students from now until March 31 (the day after spring break). After that, the Board will focus on selecting, editing and continuing to submit submissions from alumnae as well as fine-tuning its website, deepcapture.com. Submitted pieces can be anywhere from one sentence long to an upper limit of a thousand words.
“If all goes well, the book will be a great opportunity for people to get published,” Kelly said. “There have been enough books about how to get into HLS. The real question is how to get out.”