SAN ANTONIO — Disruption equals opportunity. That was the message that came across loud at a conference here organized by CPS Energy, the local gas and electric utility, on smart cities — a revolution that is underway and surging.
Simply, smart cities are convergence of digital technologies, from street lights to driverless vehicles. Cities — there are more than 19,000 of them in the world — represent a great new vista of business opportunity for new entrepreneurs.
Coincidentally, a small but distinguished law school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is, in its way, seeking to upend the traditional expectations of law students by teaching them law plus innovation and entrepreneurism.
Dickinson Law, founded in 1834 and is now part of The Pennsylvania State University, but operates autonomously, is seeking to turn out a new kind of lawyer: One who is interested in becoming an entrepreneur rather than simply practicing law.
The program is the concept of Samantha Prince, assistant professor of legal writing and entrepreneurship, who had been an entrepreneur as well as a lawyer. She told me that she wanted the Dickinson Law students to realize what a useful and versatile tool a law degree is, and how it can offer those who have one a wide range of opportunities beyond the traditional practice of law.
Prince, with the energetic support of dean Gary Gildin, told me many students have not come to Dickinson Law straight out of college but have had work experience, which makes them more open to a wider range of possibilities.
A partner at one of the large law firms in Washington told me that she wishes her education at one of the nation’s top law schools had been just a little less academic and broader. She said the curriculum was fascinating, but much of it was arcane and directed to the study of the history of law and its seminal turning points. No thought was given to the idea that she might want to use her legal knowledge in any other way than to practice law, probably in a big firm. That she has done.
Lawyers, of course, have always been entrepreneurial. But Prince says that has been in the confines of the profession.
Prince wants her students to think about — at least some of them — how they can use their legal knowledge to start a business, pulling together investors, creators and visionaries.
The faculty at Dickinson Law wants to see some students take their chances and test their mettle in the marketplace. One problem: The study of law is a study of what can go wrong, and new business is a belief in what might go right.
Prince’s students have something of an advantage as they tend to be older and to have had real-life experience. Already some of them are thinking of law differently: Zachary Gihorski wants to use his legal training to lead and shape the future of agriculture; Christian Wolgemuth wants to enter cybersecurity practice and eventually become an entrepreneur; and Ana Anvari wants to serve health care businesses by advising them on health care regulation and helping them to start up or expand their businesses.
Those who are thinking of self-employment may find the new vitality in cities a place of opportunity. The cities are going to be wide open to everything from better electric vehicle charging to automated garbage collection, to repair and maintenance of the automated systems, to restaurants delivering meals by drone. If you can think of it, it will probably be needed.
Although the big tech companies, from Google to Tesla, AT&T to Verizon and Amazon to IBM, are salivating over the new smart city opportunities. History teaches that great fortunes are made by new players when, so to speak, the ground shifts.
The ground is shifting in cities like San Antonio, Chula Vista, Calif., Boston and Houston.
Smart cities represent a huge entrepreneurial chance for smart people — lawyers and otherwise.