To celebrate the 10th year of the Master of Science in Law (MSL) program—where STEM, law, and business converge—Northwestern Pritzker Law is highlighting alumni of the program from each graduating class since its 2014 launch.
The Master of Science in Law was created at a moment of tremendous technological and workforce change, when professionals from diverse fields were being called upon to interact with increasingly complex issues involving regulation, product development, privacy, use of data, contracts, business development, entrepreneurship, and more. The Law School recognized that STEM professionals in particular were often in the thick of these intersectional legal and business issues, but few had the training to address and respond to these challenges.
The launch of the MSL addressed this gap in the market, and the program has grown dramatically over the years – there are now approximately 200 students enrolled in the program annually. With both a full-time and part-time option, and the addition five years ago of an online format that caters to mid-career professionals, the MSL has sent more than 600 well-trained, interdisciplinary professionals into the market.
Following the interests of its students, and always looking to be on the cutting edge, the MSL program now offers more than 80 classes focused at the intersection of law, business, and STEM – including foundational classes in contracts, regulation, business formation, securities, and intellectual property, and an interesting assortment of specialized electives in such areas as fintech, privacy, data security, biotech, food, AI, forensic science, environmental law, IP strategy and management, and many more.
This week we are highlighting Brent Halvorson (MSL ‘21). He is currently working in San Francisco as a Lifesciences Associate for JPMorgan Chase & Co., where he has been able to combine his experience in consulting, product development, and banking. Prior to joining JPMorgan, he also spent several years with Meta working in product development, and he also worked at EY (formerly Ernst & Young) as a forensic data analyst.
We spoke with Halvorson about his professional experience, his time with the MSL program, what he’s learned since graduating, and his advice for future MSL candidates.
Why don’t we start with an introduction to what you’re currently working on?
What I do present day is help startups in the life sciences space come by the financial solutions and tools that they need to eventually go public or get purchased. This includes helping these pre-revenue startups through their lifecycle and being a great strategic advisor and finance partner to them so they can deliver great innovation. It’s a multifaceted role within the bank that allows me to utilize both financial and legal acumen gained in the MLS to deliver the best solutions to our clients.
What initially led you to apply to the MSL?
I was working at EY at the time and wanted to make the pivot out of management consulting; I looked at a variety of different avenues to do that. I knew I was interested in further schooling, and also in law, and I wanted to be involved in the innovation economy. And so, when I was looking at traditional business and law schools, the MSL really stood out as an innovative, new, cutting-edge program that l could use as I was starting that next phase in my career, and obviously that’s held true.
What would you say has changed for you the most since graduating from the program?
There have been lots of changes, honestly. The two years I spent at Meta in a tech product roll were great in giving me an understanding of the product lifecycle development and customer relations; I was also working in a faster-moving environment than the one I was used to in management consulting.
Recently, I’ve been able to pivot into the banking sphere. Revisiting those venture capital incubator and finance-adjacent classes from my time in the MSL has been a new point of emphasis for me. Being able to work with startup founders on a more regular basis has also been a great benefit.
How are you utilizing the actual curriculum within your day-to-day work?
In the MSL program, I had the opportunity to take a lot of venture finance and contract-specific classes. Now I am reviewing contracts with more consistency and discussing legal terms. The terminology that I learned from the MSL program about the venture capital and startup scene has definitely been a huge payout for me. I’m working that knowledge into my current role with a little bit more pace than I would have been able to without the MSL backing. Being able to better understand and talk the talk of the startup financing realm has been really advantageous for me.
What would you say was most innovative about the program during your time as a student?
There are very few, if any, other programs that do such a good job of blending traditional law school classes with concepts involving business and technology. The MSL provided a great opportunity to take numerous contract, regulatory, and business school classes from professors at renowned institutions like Pritzker and Kellogg. Being able to toggle among those topics with quite a bit of ease and pick and choose the classes most applicable to my career was incredibly innovative. It allowed me to gain a good, broad understanding and depth of knowledge in areas that I could then build on.
Also, being in Chicago, a world class city which I love dearly, was a huge part of it. There’s a massive startup ecosystem that’s continuing to blossom in the area across different sectors from life sciences to medical devices and fintech. It’s all there in Chicago. And because I’m now focused on the life sciences and medical devices space, being able to partner in collaborative, cross-disciplinary classes with another world-class institution – the Northwestern health care system – was incredibly rewarding and a huge plus for the innovation side of MSL, too.
Is there any advice for future MSL applicants or students?
I would say, “Dive in.” Come in with a preformed idea of what you might be interested in, but don’t be afraid to get there in a unique, fun way and let it lead you to a career path that you might not have considered in the past. Just know that versatility and well-roundedness of the program will enable you or empower you to capture those opportunities if you’re just paying attention and open to it.
Is there anything I haven’t touched on that you want to talk about?
I love the MSL program. I love the MSL staff, and Northwestern University has been an incredible boon in my career in terms of resources. The program helped me in a variety of different ways to get to where I am today. I know firsthand that the program has a ton of value and applicable information that you can bring to a variety of different industries. In this ever-changing world that’s innovating at an incredible pace, a program like the MSL can put you at the forefront of innovation and allow you to successfully ride the waves it is producing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.