Jones Day Chicago's pro bono efforts help launch new high school curriculum

The Firm's commitment to pro bono work has helped launch an innovative, perhaps unprecedented, educational program for high school students in Chicago.

In the summer of 2013, two local entrepreneurs in Barrington, Illinois hit upon the notion of establishing a wholly new curriculum and course to teach high school students the skills needed to become entrepreneurs. The key difference from traditional school programs was their vision that students would create actual businesses during the course of the school year. Ultimately, students would be offered the non-graded and optional opportunity to participate in a "Pitch Night" where local venture capitalists could agree to fund the businesses created by the students.

The entrepreneurs presented this concept to Illinois School District 220 and The District 220 Educational Foundation, a not-for-profit entity that supports the school's educational mission. The District and the Foundation loved the idea, but quickly realized that it posed a series of unusual legal challenges.

That’s when Jones Day stepped in as pro bono counsel to the Foundation. Ottosen Britz – a firm that primarily represents educational institutions – also volunteered its expertise as pro bono counsel to the school district. The lawyers had to resolve difficult issues such as reconciling the concept of public education with business secrecy, using school funds to help students test the viability of their proposed businesses, copyright issues with respect to ownership of the curriculum materials (including works created by volunteers and full time District 220 employees), the applicability of school district insurance to claims against a test business and, perhaps most significantly, how to structure the proposed funding of select businesses by private investors where the "founders" of the business were below the age of legal majority. Jones Day and Ottosen Britz worked feverishly to address those questions because, like many new ventures, the runway was short. The curriculum and legal issues all had to be resolved over the summer break before the start of the 2013-2014 academic year.

The program turned into a massive success in many ways, some of them quite unexpected.

First, the students received a magnificent educational experience. Many students described the class as life-changing. Second, the “Pitch Night” for optional funding of student ideas turned out exceptionally well. The MC for the pitch night was Greg Lernihan, founder of Convergint Technologies, a Jones Day client. Kim Duchossois, daughter of Dick Duchossois (another Jones Day client) was on the panel of judges at Pitch Night.

Five student teams received an aggregate of $80,000 to fund their ventures for a second class year. One of the businesses is already profitable and has multiple employees. Another start up, which is going to market an RFID-based system for tracking school buses, has had to turn away orders from school districts as far away as Texas. One of the businesses that received a grant is a not-for-profit entity that will help charitable entities enhance their internet presence by offering improved websites designed by tech-savvy high school volunteers.

Many newspapers and radio and TV outlets have run stories on the success of the class in general and the ground-breaking "Pitch Night." Forbes, for example, wrote a glowing overview of the class.

The program proved so successful that other school districts throughout the nation are now asking for licenses to use the curriculum (at $25,000 per school per year). Jones Day continues to help the Foundation work their way through the legal issues associated with out-licensing the curriculum. The Firm will shortly be involved in the process of creating a new not-for-profit entity to hold title to all the valuable intellectual property that was created and to commercialize it nationally. The Foundation and District 220 will both enjoy potentially significant royalties from the licensing activities for many years to come. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, a portion of the licensing revenues will be donated each year to schools in financially disadvantaged areas so that the students can enjoy the same curriculum and receive potentially substantial financial support in setting up ventures in their own communities.

This is an example of what Jones Day does best in its pro bono work: help clients navigate uncharted waters, create something unique and then, through the success of that good work, create continued opportunities and benefits for others who might not otherwise enjoy them.

Jones Day is a global law firm with 41 offices in major centers of business and finance throughout the world. Its unique governance system fosters an unparalleled level of integration and contributes to its perennial ranking as among the best in the world in client service. Jones Day provides significant legal representation for almost half of the Fortune 500, Fortune Global 500, and FT Global 500.

To learn more about the Firm's commitment to pro bono, please visit the Jones Day Pro Bono website.

Firmwide Head of Pro Bono
Amy Zywicki
Firmwide Pro Bono Facilitator