Deborah Burand, associate professor of clinical law at NYU School of Law spoke with BYU Law students about the intersection of business law and social entrepreneurship at the Law and Social Change forum. Burand directs the NYU International Transactions Clinic and writes and lectures on issues related to impact investing, social finance innovations, and microfinance.
“I’d like to begin by telling you about a movie, a lawnmower, and a community,” Burand said. As a junior associate for a Wall Street law firm early in her career, Burand was troubled by the aftermath of a legal transaction she had helped a client with. “What was the social utility of what we just did?” she asked a colleague. “He told me I wasn’t being paid to ask that question.” Burand said the 1987 movie Wall Street came to mind. “The main character in the film, Gordon Gecko, famously says, ‘Greed is good. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.’” Burand says she felt otherwise and began to pursue opportunities that would allow her to develop her business and legal skills in order to “do what was good in the world.”
Burand went on to work as general counsel to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, now known as the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). DFC helps provide medium- to long-term funding through direct loans and loan guarantees to eligible investment projects in developing countries and emerging markets.These experiences peaked her interest in the practice of using microloans to create a global community of sustainable businesses at the base of the economic pyramid. Burand recalled a personal experience with a microloan from her days as a law student on a tight budget. “I started receiving typewritten, anonymous letters in the mail with small amounts of cash enclosed. My family had a typewriter with a sticky “p” key and I recognized the distinctive “p” in these letters. I assumed my parents were sending me money.” Later Burand discovered she had her younger brother to thank. “He was mowing lawns and mailing me some of his earnings,” she shared. “I know what it feels like to have someone believe in you and your dreams.”
Burand co-directs the Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship whose mission is to enhance the community of lawyers engaged in social entrepreneurship and impact investing and to accelerate their effective participation in these fields. “More than 30% of law schools are now embedding themes of social enterprise into their courses,” she said. “There are extracurricular activities and student associations focused on social entrepreneurship.” Burand advised law students who are interested in joining this community to take classes on transactions and corporate deals and to look for mentors who are focused on doing business for a social cause. “Use creativity in how you structure your law school experience,” she said. “Don’t wait until you graduate to become a creative business lawyer.”