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by Jennifer Baldino Bonett

Even in her first months of legal practice, Brenda J. Robinson L’03 can offer her clients expertise that sets her apart from her colleagues. She has an acute understanding of the business aspects of their cases which she gained while earning her J.D. at Penn Law. As she studied for her law degree, Robinson also completed coursework for a new Certificate of Study in Business and Public Policy at the Wharton School.

“Because of my strong interest in practicing intellectual property law,” says Robinson, “having the opportunity to study technology and intellectual property from a business and management perspective enhanced my knowledge of the field and better prepared me to address the needs of my clients. A practicing attorney (who, incidentally, happened to be a Penn Law alum) once advised me that one of the keys to the successful practice of law is to know your client’s business. I believe that the knowledge that I gained from studying at Wharton will assist me in understanding the needs of my clients.”

To earn the certificate, students must take four courses – one at the Law School and three at Wharton – all of which fit neatly into the current J.D. course load. Students do not need to take additional course hours to earn the certificate.

The Wharton courses must include one in the Business and Public Policy Department, and the others may be in areas of specialization like international operation of government, urban development and real estate, management, or health care and risk management.

Established in the 1999-2000 academic year, the Wharton Certificate is another huge step forward in Penn Law’s effort to create a peerless interdisciplinary program. Increasingly, students receive joint degrees or take credits in economics, public policy, and the arts and sciences. Many are also earning MBAs while in law school. Which has led Dean Michael A. Fitts to wonder: How can we open up more such opportunities for Penn Law students?

To prepare students for a global economy, in which lawyers and business professionals cross paths more frequently, developing a course of study with the Wharton School seemed a clear choice.

“Throughout the University, there are excellent courses and departments compatible with law,” says Fitts. “One of the most evident connections is between law and business. Where better for students at one of the world’s top law schools to add to their knowledge and skills than at the internationally renowned Wharton School? It’s a way of distinguishing the Law School within the University, and a way of distinguishing Penn Law among its peers.”

Clearly, Penn Law students agree. There was substantial interest when the program was first offered in 2001-02, and it is growing: 11 percent of the students in the 2003 graduating class completed the requirements for the certificate.

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