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The Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic Opens Its Doors to Students and Clients

The start of spring semester marked the official kick off of the College of Law’s newest clinical experience for students: the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic (ECDC). In the works for several years, the ECDC is the result of several forces: Professor Barbara Black’s, Corporate Law Center director and Charles Hartsock Professor of Law, proposal to start a small business clinic and the desire to enhance clinical offerings for students. Last year after a national search, Professor Lewis Goldfarb, then a visiting clinical professor at Wayne State University,  was asked to lead and develop the clinic. On board since August 2010, he has spent a large portion of the fall semester conducting community outreach activities to “get the word out” about the ECDC and the services it would provide. 

Clinic Brings Together Students and Professionals

In its first semester of operation, the ECDC will be staffed by six 3L students who will work directly with clients using their certification as legal interns.  “The ECDC provides students with the opportunity for hands-on experiences in representing clients before they graduate,” said Goldfarb, “and, perhaps more significantly, it allows them to recognize the value that they bring to their clients in being able to relate to and connect with them while helping them solve their legal problems.”  Students participating in the clinic receive three out-of-classroom credits and one in-class credit.

In addition to himself and the students participating in the ECDC, Goldfarb has also been reaching out to members of the private bar in an effort to recruit local lawyers for pro bono commitments.  “Local attorneys can act as clinic advisors, consulting with me and the students on various issues as they arise, particularly in nuanced legal areas in which their particular experiences may make them better equipped to provide the best learning experience for the students,” said Goldfarb.  Along that same line, local attorneys could also aid the clinic by volunteering to teach a class regarding their area of expertise to supplement the classroom component of the students’ experience.  “Ideally,” he said, “I’d like for this clinic to be both a student program and a pro bono assistance program so that we don’t end up having to turn away businesses who are otherwise eligible to receive assistance from the clinic.”  Goldfarb indicated that he already has commitments from several local attorneys to assist with the clinic. "Several lawyers have graciously agreed to be clinic advisors; however, we need more in order to meet the anticipated demand for our services and have the impact that I envision."

Making a Difference in Cincinnati’s Small Business Community

The clinic targets as clients small business owners, both for-profit and nonprofit, who are confronting legal issues but are unable to afford private attorneys.  “Their chances for success improve with legal services,” said Goldfarb, “so the ECDC seeks to help by providing free legal services.”  Goldfarb also indicated that, especially in difficult economic times, many people turn to starting their own businesses as a way for supporting themselves and their families.  "Our services are especially important in today’s economic climate. The business owners want to spend their money on revenue-producing activities, not attorneys,” said Goldfarb, “and this clinic allows them to do that while still receiving legal assistance.”  Goldfarb’s hope is that, as these businesses succeed and grow, they will be able to not only afford private legal counsel but also to hire additional employees, thus benefiting the entire community.  “In this way,” he said, “this clinic can make a real difference in Cincinnati.”

Businesses can become involved with the clinic through its application process, which involves answering several questions about the business, its legal needs, and its financial situation.  For new businesses, Goldfarb expects that they have a business plan created, in order to show that they are truly dedicated to their business idea and making it succeed.  “Based on the application,” Goldfarb said, “I make a determination as to whether the applicant has the means to afford legal services, as well as whether the legal issues presented lend themselves to beneficial student learning experiences.”  Even before the clinic has officially opened for business, ten clients are lined up.  They are anxiously awaiting help from our students.

In addition to directly serving local clients, Professor Goldfarb has also arranged public education opportunities for the students.  “There are many organizations in the community that provide training to small business owners; however, little of that training addresses the legal aspects of owning and operating a business," Goldfarb explained.  To meet this need, he has arranged for the students to make presentations to these organizations; Goldfarb already has commitments from a few local organizations, including teaching legal concepts to students majoring in "entrepreneurship" at UC's College of Business. "Based on my own experience, teaching is a great way to learn."

The Work of the Clinic

The ECDC is a transactional law clinic, meaning that instead of representing clients in court, the students will primarily be assisting them with business transactions.  This includes helping clients determine what type of entity to establish, and then helping them establish that entity; preparing, reviewing, and negotiating contracts; helping them obtain necessary licenses and permits, and meet other regulations that impact the business; providing trademark or copyright advice; and addressing other legal issues as they arise.  Goldfarb anticipates having two to three clients per student per semester, although at times students will work on projects in teams of two.  “I believe working in a team can be a really positive experience,” he said. “In addition, it’s another real-world-type aspect of the clinic, as many practicing attorneys work together in representing clients.” 

Thinking toward the future, Goldfarb would love to expand the clinic to include more students each semester.  “I would love to increase the number of students who have the opportunity to experience what the ECDC has to offer them in terms of practical experiences,” he said.  This includes not only more 3L students, but possibly 2Ls one day, who might have the opportunity to participate in ways that do not involve direct client representation.  “I would also love to expand the number of clients the ECDC can serve at a time,” Goldfarb noted, “in order to enhance the impact on the local community.”  He also indicated that he would like to see the clinic become multi-disciplinary at some point in the future, so that businesses could get various types of assistance—beyond legal services—in one place. "My vision for the future of the clinic will require collaboration among the UC College of Law, other colleges at UC, and the local legal and business communities, including an investment of time, money, and resources.  I believe the impact on our students, local businesses, and the local economy will be well worth the investment."

A Buckeye Native Comes Home

A native Ohioan, he grew up in Sandusky, Ohio and is a self-described “double Buckeye:” attending the Ohio State University for both undergraduate and law school.  He had several careers before coming to the College of Law. He worked as a CPA for several years before attending law school. After graduating he worked at Baker & Hostetler in the business section. Next, he provided transactional legal services to Honda of America for 16 years as its Associate Chief Counsel; and he was an entrepreneur himself, running a tutoring company in central Ohio.  “I enjoyed the various jobs I held,” he says, “but I was never fulfilled enough; I hadn’t yet found the job I was passionate about.”   

When his sister, also a law professor, told him of an opening at Lewis & Clark’s law school to teach its small business legal clinic, Goldfarb seized the opportunity and moved to Portland for a year.  He enjoyed his time in Portland and found self-fullillment in teaching the clinical experience.  His wife and two sons remained in Ohio, however; so when he heard about the position with the College of Law he quickly applied, recognizing that it would be a great career fit and would bring him closer to his family. 

“I really feel privileged to be in this position,” he commented, “and to be able to share with students my knowledge and experience that I have accumulated over the years.  I think I have found a job I am truly passionate about.”