Small Business Clinic Ends Successful First Year
“My experience with the ECDC has been a great one. I am gaining a wealth of knowledge that will help me be the most effective counsel that I can be,” said Destiny Moore, a 2011 UC Law graduate about her experience as a legal intern in the inaugural class of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic.
The Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic (ECDC) is the law school’s first transactional legal clinic. Officially opened this year, ECDC provided third-year law students with “hands on” experience representing local small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. Basically, the clinic functioned as a law firm, with law students serving as lawyers for the clinic’s clients, assisting them with business transactions such as forming an appropriate business entity, reviewing and preparing contracts, advising on copyright and trademark issues, and providing needed legal counsel on other issues confronting the clinic’s clients.
In its first few months of operation, the six students worked individually and in teams to assist nine local businesses on 31 different legal matters. Those businesses ranged from janitorial services to business consultants to product designers to health care providers to web-based service providers. For the students, it was an amazing experience.
“I had almost no experience interacting with clients, so the opportunity to meet (and work with) them was novel,” said Michael Hurley, who is graduating this May. “This process gave me perspective about the wider picture of being a counselor-at-law to clients.” Sean Graves, another 2011 graduate, concurred. “I actually feel, for the first-time, that I’m able to add value as a business planning attorney.”
Small business owners, like Lincoln Smith, president of 2D-2-3D Conversions, benefitted from the experience too. 2D-2-3D Conversions is an engineering service provider that turns two-dimensional drawings of machines or equipment into computerized three-dimensional versions. These computerized versions, “virtual models,” can then be used to create real-life prototypes.
In business for just two years, small business owner Smith could not afford necessary legal counsel. “I spoke with several attorneys about representing me and their cost was way beyond my reach,” he said. “They were charging between $300 - $500 an hour, which was not affordable. So, I had to operate without legal assistance and watch my back all the time.”
Through the services of ECDC Smith was able to get appropriate legal assistance—at no cost—from students working under the direction and guidance of supervising attorney Lew Goldfarb, clinic director. (In order to work with clients the students obtained legal intern certificates from the Supreme Court of Ohio.)
“I was very impressed with the students from the first meeting,” Smith said. Among several issues, he spoke with them about whether he should expand his employee base or work with contractors. “They (the students) went way beyond my expectations: addressing my questions and issues and then bringing up things I hadn’t even considered to help me make the best decision.”
Cynthia Hale-Price, president of C. Price Alternatives, agreed. Hale-Price is a construction safety consultant, working with construction companies to conduct safety audits, site safety inspections, teach OSHA classes, etc. In business for just three years, she realized early on that appropriate legal counsel was invaluable particularly at the start of a business.
“Being a small business owner and a new start-up, I didn’t have the funds to hire an attorney,” Hale-Price said. “However, I had a lot of questions and issues that needed to be addressed.” After hearing about the clinic through the African-American Chamber of commerce, Hale-Price thought it couldn’t hurt to talk with the legal interns.
“I thought I’d get a little advice, nothing substantial, and I found the exact opposite,” she said. “My student helped me with all kinds of things—from filling out paperwork to contracts. His knowledge base was vast and he offered a lot of insight. It was wonderful.”
Counseling clients was one part of the clinic. They also launched a public education initiative. The students and Goldfarb arranged public education opportunities to train up-and-coming entrepreneurs and other business owners on various legal aspects of owning and operating a business.
After their semester long experience with the clinic, the graduating students uniformly felt they learned a great deal. “The clinic experience taught me useful techniques in identifying issues as clients delivered their story,” said Hurley. “It also taught me to think creatively about providing solutions to problems rather than simply providing a legal analysis of the situation.”
“Working in the ECDC has boosted my confidence in my ability to open my own practice—my ultimate goal,” said Christy Flanagan, a 2011 graduate. “It has reinforced my belief that I have the communication and people skills that will allow me to work well with my clients, and hopefully, help me to get clients.”
The clinic is now accepting clients for the Fall 2011 semester. ECDC accepts clients from Hamilton County, Butler County, Clermont County, and Warren County. For more information, visit the clinic website.