Luke Kessel discovered his interest in corporate finance law during his spring semester as a 1L, when he took Corporations as an elective. “I entered law school with no clear path except that I knew I wanted to practice law,” he said. “I realized I wanted to practice corporate law while I was taking Corporations from Professor Morgan Ricks.”
Before entering law school, Luke majored in history and international relations at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. “I knew I needed to learn more about business and finance, so I attended a presentation about Vanderbilt’s JD/Master’s in Finance program that was hosted by the program’s admissions director, Maura Clark. I knew immediately that I would apply for the program.”
Law students accepted for the JD/MSF joint-degree program earn both degrees in three years. They spend their 1L and 2L years taking law classes and then attend Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management as full-time finance students for the first semester of their 3L year. Their final semester of coursework includes two law electives and two finance electives.
“The JD/MSF program was ideal for me because I didn’t have a finance background,” Luke said. “At Owen, I learned the basics of how the bond and stock markets work, and the advanced finance electives I took helped me understand the needs and motivations of my future clients, especially entrepreneurs who want to grow their businesses.”
He particularly enjoyed his class in Entrepreneurial Finance, in which he gained a perspective he believes will enhance his ability to help corporate clients achieve their goals. “Now I can walk into a boardroom, look at a balance sheet and understand it from a finance perspective. That will greatly inform the advice I can give clients,” he said.
He also enjoyed Law and Business Program electives such as Mergers & Acquisitions with Professor Randall Thomas. “I was fascinated by how M&A works from a deal-team perspective, and how the Delaware Courts have interpreted so many of the laws surrounding duties between shareholders and company directors, and Professor Thomas brought a lot of real-world experience into the classroom,” he said.
Luke chose Vanderbilt Law because of its strong academics and its solid track record of national career placement. He plans to join K&L Gates in Charlotte as an associate after graduation. “I wanted to go to a top-ranked school in the Southeast, and I was impressed by Vanderbilt’s job placement numbers,” he said. “Vanderbilt’s strong national reputation and ability to place students in coveted postgraduate positions was a significant factor in my choice to come here. I was also attracted to Vanderbilt’s small class size and the tight-knit community.”
As a 2L, Luke joined the staff of the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, where his undergraduate studies in international relations WAS an asset. He served as JTL’s executive article selection editor as a 3L. “We decide what the journal will publish, which was exciting,” he explained. “My work on the journal broadened my understanding of the global legal landscape, and I was exposed to issues as diverse as native rights in Brazil and the regulation of cyberspace in Asia.”
He joned the Jessup International Law Traveling Moot Court Team and was active in the Entertainment and Sports Law Society. “I was able to meet the general counsels of the Nashville Predators, the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers and learn how those sports teams deal with legal disputes.
Luke touts the outstanding teaching at Vanderbilt as a major advantage for students. “The faculty are outstanding and the level of teaching, especially during the 1L year, is exceptional,” he said. “Faculty here are nationally renowned scholars, and many have an open-door policy or hold office hours each week. I found this inviting approach really helpful as a 1L navigating the first few weeks of law school. I was also impressed that professors in the Law and Business program have real-world work experiences that they related in class discussions in insightful ways.”