Unique Course Introduces UVA Law Students Firsthand to Israeli Business Law and Innovation
A new University of Virginia School of Law course set in Israel offered students a unique way to study the nation's business laws and entrepreneurial practices last week.
UVA Law professors Michal Barzuza, a corporate law expert, and Dotan Oliar, an intellectual property expert, led the six-day, two-credit January Term class, Israeli Business Law and Innovation. The professors, who grew up in Israel and earned their first law degrees there, introduced 14 UVA Law students to Israel's business environment through a series of lectures from experts held at a Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law classroom and via off-campus meetings at law firms, government offices and at the Supreme Court of Israel in Jerusalem.
Israel has originated more companies on the New York Stock Exchange than any other nation besides the United States and China, the professors said, and is often considered a "startup nation" that has persevered economically despite such challenges as the recurrence of war and a lack of natural resources.
"The course gives students an overall view of the various ways in which the Israeli legal system promotes innovation and entrepreneurship," Oliar said. "Hopefully, this experience would not only be valuable to students interested in international practice, but also provide a perspective on the ways in which the law performs similar functions in the U.S."
Eric Haitz, a third-year J.D.-MBA student from Southlake, Texas, who took part in the course, said he first became interested in Israel when he learned about the nation's innovations in drip irrigation, which has allowed the country to overcome desert conditions and experience greater prosperity. He said the irrigation case study was also of one several presented to students in the course to demonstrate the nation's ability to problem-solve.
"Here's a country that's highly innovative, in part because they have to be," Haitz said. "Israel has every complication it can possibly have: being in a rowdy neighborhood, being in the desert and being hugely developing."
Charles Greene, a third-year law student from Pembroke, Georgia, said he learned that Israel, despite its relatively brief history as a nation and its remoteness from major trade partners, innovates by maintaining interconnectivity with other countries and learning from their precedents.
Greene said he was impressed to meet Judge Ruth Ronnen of the Israeli Economic Court, the entity that settles internal corporate disputes much like the Delaware Court of Chancery in the U.S., from which it is modeled.
"The judge spoke very candidly with us," he said. "I asked her if they ever consider Delaware opinions, and she said it's very common because we have more corporate law here in the United States, because America is an older country."
Greene said Israel's willingness to consider case law from other nations allows it to better synchronize with them, making it easier for the multinational corporations that help drive its economy to do business.
Israel's judiciaries also consider case law from nations as diverse as India and Germany, he said.
"I think it's really interesting to see the extent to which Israel's laws and judicial system are informed from law from around the world, because Israelis have come from all corners of the world," Greene said.
Shannon Hayes, a third-year law student from Memphis, Tennessee, said the meeting with Ronnen gave her insight into the country's progressive trends, such as the proliferation of women serving on the bench.
The students said another highlight among their interactions — and a great honor because of his busy schedule — was meeting Chief Justice Asher Grunis, a 1972 alumnus of UVA Law's LL.M. program who retired from the Supreme Court the same week. One of Grunis' specialties on the bench had been contract issues, but Grunis also spoke broadly to students about how the court interacts with different aspects of government.
Other speakers included the director and former director of the antitrust authority, the register of patents and the head of the Middle East Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lecture topics included "Concentrated Ownership in Corporate Law," "Hi-Tech Legal Practice in Israel" and "Government's Role in Israel's Innovation Ecosystem."
Haitz, the J.D.-MBA student, said he was struck by how "multidimensional" the learning experience was. "At the end of the course, you see all of the component pieces that make innovation possible," he said.
For Hayes, a former immigration paralegal, the trip to Israel crystalized much of what she has learned as a student in the John W. Glynn, Jr. Law & Business Program about how U.S. business practices affect the practices of other countries. She also said she enjoyed the trip as a cultural experience, because she has both Christian and Jewish roots.
Students visited the Western Wall at the Temple Mount, a holy site, and some ventured on their own to the desert fortress Masada and other historic locations.
The UVA professors who led the course took a comparative approach in their instruction. Oliar taught an overview of U.S. intellectual property law as a prelude to discussions on Israeli patent and copyright law, while Barzuza compared U.S. and Israel corporate law in her talk.
"The Israeli system provides an additional lens to understand corporate law roles and challenges," Barzuza said. "While the Israeli legal system is closely tied to, and often follows, the U.S. system, the dominant ownership structure in Israel is not dispersed but rather includes controlling shareholders. This structure, which is also common around the world, combined with the relatively small size of the Israeli market, raises different challenges for the legal system."
Barzuza received an LL.B. and a B.A. in economics from Tel Aviv University, where she was a Cegla Research Fellow in law and economics and an editor of the Tel Aviv University Law Review. Oliar received his LL.B. and B.A. from Tel Aviv University, and clerked for the Israeli Supreme Court. Both later received S.J.D.s, similar to a Ph.D. in law, from Harvard University.
"The course allows us to make a connection between two circles [the U.S. and Israel] that we have straddled over the past years," Oliar said. "Many of the course speakers are ones that we have known and interacted with before, and it was a pleasure to introduce them to our students. It was an equal pleasure to introduce our students to the speakers. They came together wonderfully as a group, and impressed all with their engagement, energy and professionalism."
J-Term courses, which are typically one or two credits and one week long, have been offered at UVA Law since 2006, preceding the start of each spring semester. Courses can take place at UVA or abroad, and have covered topics as diverse as the law of baseball and current issues in the laws of war.
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