Nine Elon Law students and nine MBA students from Elon's Martha and Spencer Love School of Business participated in a first-time collaboration through an international business course that included meetings with top business and law leaders in China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.
The primary objective of this first-ever course collaboration between Elon’s law and business schools was to present students with an opportunity to experience the intersection of legal and business practices in one of the world’s fastest growing regions.
While the two-week trip began on January 14, students commenced work on the course in early November of 2009. At the outset of the course, students were split into two groups, one researching China and the other Vietnam.
Business students were challenged to create a new product for a hypothetical company, exploring the idea of making and/or selling the product in either China or Vietnam. Their research focused on the broad range of challenges to doing business in China and Vietnam.
Law students served as legal advisors to the commercial entities created by the business students, exploring each country’s legal system, advising on legal considerations for how to enter the foreign country and the best business structure to use, and researching intellectual property, labor and trade laws specific to each country.
“This was a great way to learn how business and law are connected,” said MBA student Margaret Gabriel. “The combination of business and law is one that is not widely touched upon in business programs, so this was a unique opportunity to see firsthand how those two fields work together.”
Law student Evan Barr said it was beneficial to hear the questions that MBA students posed to the companies they visited.
“Awareness of the challenges that businesses face, such as monitoring costs of production and the marketplace for their product, hiring and retaining a workforce, and moving product across borders, can help lawyers stay focused on the effect of their legal solutions on the client’s particular circumstance,” Barr said.
Law student Michael Davis said the experience would be an asset to him throughout his legal career.
“Through our business meetings, as well as our interactions with our MBA counterparts, I observed just how important it is for an attorney to listen and consider clients’ goals before attempting to make recommendations or provide legal advice,” Davis said.
Law and MBA students found their days occupied with company tours, law firm meetings and cultural experiences.
The first two days in Vietnam were spent touring the city. The group went to the Cu Chi Tunnels and explored the underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War. The next day was spent traveling the Mekong Delta by boat, visiting the colorful Cao Dai Temple, and learning about the aftermath of the Vietnam War at the Vietnam War Remnants Museum.
On January 18 and 19, the class concentrated on business tours and a law firm visit. They participated in a question and answer session with John Tocco, Director of Business Preservation and Development of The Gannon Group, one of the oldest and most well established private companies operating in Vietnam today. Students then visited the Theodore Alexander showroom, taking a behind-the-scenes look at what went into hand crafted high-end furniture.
The next day, students toured a factory floor of ScanCom, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of outdoor furniture, and had lunch with Edwin Van Der Sloot, Chief Operating Officer and To Van Ngoc, Managing Director of the company.
Law students finished up the day discussing legal issues such as labor law and arbitration in Vietnam with Jesse Lieberman, attorney with the Saigon office of French firm Gide, Loyrette, Nouel, the third largest international law firm in the world.
The second leg of the journey started on January 20, when the group arrived in Hong Kong. They experienced a tram ride up to Victoria’s Peak, then took a boat ride to witness the “boat people” of Aberdeen Harbor, and finished the day shopping at Stanley Market.
The next day was spent meeting with Modern Terminals, one of the largest container terminal operators in the region, observing the important roles that port terminals have in shipping goods.
Law students then met and conversed with Gavin Nesbitt and Edwarde Webre, two partners with Deacons, the oldest and largest independent law firm in Hong Kong, on the differences between the legal systems of Hong Kong and China.
The evening was spent enjoying a dinner and debate at the Hong Kong Yacht Club.
Norris W. Gunby, assistant professor of management at the Love School of Business, who co-taught the course with professor of management Kevin O’Mara and Elon Law’s distinguished practitioner-in-residence John Englar, said the debate was one of the most enriching experiences of the trip.
“The trip further strengthens Elon’s position as a leader in global education and illustrates the reach of our alumni base,” Gunby said. “The majority of our firm visits were initiated from alumni contacts. After four MBA study abroad experiences, the HK Yacht Club debate on the role of business and our ethical obligations in the global society was certainly one of the most interesting evenings ever. Exposing our students to barristers and legal scholars from one of HK’s most elite organizations with the opportunity to engage in an open debate forum was a once in a lifetime experience for our students.”
On January 22, the group traveled to Shenzhen, China, visiting Rubbermaid’s manufacturing plants and later, donning lab coats to tour Hybio’s pharmaceutical plant.
Afterwards, students had an interesting shopping experience at Wal-Mart. Before bidding farewell to new friends and the eastern hemisphere, the students were treated to seafood on a floating restaurant on Lamma Island, where the students spent their last night reflecting on the trip.
Law student, Jenny Sweet, said the trip underscored her view that being globally aware is a very important aspect of being a leader.
“I fully believe that it is important in today’s society to foster the idea of global citizenship in attorneys and other leaders,” Sweet said. “We are no longer secluded to practice in the U.S., but have myriad opportunities to work in a foreign land should we so desire.”
Faculty members for the course detailed the distinct benefits to law and MBA students.
“The law students now have a better understanding of the key issues for businesses and why contracts need to be written in certain ways to encourage, not constrict, business opportunities,” O’Mara said. “The MBA students returned with a better appreciation for the legal issues that support ventures into the international arena.”
“It was an invaluable opportunity for law and business students to experience together the rapid pace of globalization and to appreciate their reciprocal roles in advancing the business interests of a client,” Englar said.
Reporting for this article was contributed by Anna Ksor Buonya, L’10.
Photography by Anna Ksor Buonya, L’10.