Reflection on Autumn and Winter Semesters 2016 for BFSLA

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Johanan Ottensooser, the 2016 BFSLA Scholarship recipient, reflects on the first six months of his LLM in Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship at Cornell Tech in New York City.

Legal education

In my first semester, I have taken the following legal classes:

  • Technology Transactions;
  • High Growth Corporate Transactions;
  • Intellectual Property; and
  • Law Team.

The first three subjects were US subject matter subjects, which were taught by two specialist professors (Professor Whitehead, who specialises in banking and financial markets; and Professor Grimmelmann, who specialises in internet and technology law). These subjects allowed me to understand the legal aspects of product development, notably, how to raise funds for product development, and how to defend the intellectual property in those products.

The fourth subject was less conventional: a classmate and myself were assigned to assist two product development teams from: Addepar, relating to a new credit-scoring product for fixed income products; Bloomberg, relating to health-technology; Cantora, relating to “the fan experience”; and Frog, relating to wearables in the design technology space. For these teams, we worked with US Counsel to provide legal and strategic advice, including how best to design their products to be compliant.

Product development

In my first semester, I have also worked on product development and entrepreneurship. First, with the moneydays team, I worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a new savings application aimed at low to middle income US households. We brought this product through as many as 6 iterations and as many pivots, and created a legal framework and regulatory analysis for the product, a business and fundraising plan, and a fully developed Web and Android platform for the product that plugged into banking APIs. I worked with two MBA candidates and two Masters of Computer Science candidates to build this product. Our final product (please feel free to have a look at the product repository, here: https://github.com/Cash-Economy/BMGF) was one of the few teams featured in Cornell Tech’s annual Open Studio.

I was also part of a:

  • second-placed team in the Hackathon, where I worked with a Cornell Tech connective media student and four NYU PhD candidates in data science to create a quantitative tool for analysing risk of business employing trafficked labour (see here: https://github.com/oatsandsugar/Red-Herrings);
  • a first-placed (in the Financial Inclusion vertical) team in the 2016 Fintech Hackathon, for creating the mobile application to moneydays;
  • a Grand-Prize (Investor’s Choice) and Audience Choice winning team in the #ReinventShopping hackathon for Sears where I worked with three Cornell Tech MBA candidates and three Shenkar design students to create FAD, a new business model for young designers to be subsidised by established fashion players in exchange for analytics on their their products’ success (see: https://ayala.myportfolio.com/f-a-d-shenkar-cornelltech-mba).

Apart from my Product Studio and Hackathon experience, I also studied product development intensely, through Leadership in the Studio, Startup Ideas and Conversations in the Studio, each of which has equipped me with tools to turn abstract ideas into concrete products – perhaps the most important thing I have learned at Cornell Tech. This was also the reason I applied to Cornell Tech: only by creating legal products and legal technology can the profession keep up with the innovation in the market. I intend to use these product development skills to create such legal products.

Corporate exposure

Further to my stand-alone product development experience listed above, I have also worked closely with established and nascent US and Israeli technology and finance companies:

  • Sears (retail): delivered to the head of innovation a presentation on the future of payments technology;
  • BE Finance (a Exchange Traded Fund ranking product): delivered a legal and business analysis regarding a potential entry into the US market after dominating the Israeli market for ETNs (their ETFs);
  •  FUSIC (consumer video products); delivering a legal and business analysis regarding their potential for fundraising in the US for their growth round;
  • Datalogue (AI based data preparation platform); delivering legal, business and product strategy consulting; assisting with the raising of a Seed funding round; assisting with scaling from 2 to 8 employees; designing an innovative legal data-sharing platform for machine learning and a data rights smart contract architecture.

Application to the Australian legal market

My work at King & Wood Mallesons, in the months leading up to my move overseas, was in Derivatives and Financial Services. However, whilst I worked on conventional documentation and products, I also helped worked on technology centered projects including Project DnA (a blockchain derivatives architecture project). These reg-tech / legal-tech projects are strict product development projects. My central focus at Cornell Tech has been on product development (and, from a technical perspective, on blockchain and encryption, see for example https://github.com/oatsandsugar/crypto_play/blob/master/stroll-history-encryption.pdf). By learning product development tools from masters of the trade (e.g. the ex CTO of Twitter, the founder of Box Group and Spring, the General Counsel of Slack), I will be able to take what used to be an improvised skill to one that has been honed. This, in turn, will allow me to more effectively (1) create legal financial products; (2) manage a product development team; (3) fund and market legal financial products.

This experience has been inimitable, and the wealth of product development experience has been my central take-away.

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