Struggling small businesses and aspiring nonprofits can get a helping hand from Thomas Jefferson School of Law and its Small Business Law Center.
The clinic provides organizations that can't afford legal counsel with transactional help – from drawing up contracts and lease arrangements to forming entities and navigating the regulatory process.
"There is a huge need," said TJSL professor Luz Herrera, the director of the Small Business Law Center (SBLC). "We really looking at individuals barely making a living and who would not otherwise be able to set up a business or set up a nonprofit."
The clinic is staffed by TJSL students, who are guided during representation by a licensed California attorney. The practical experience attained by law students is a sizable side benefit of the program.
"Students get unparalleled experience and hands on client interaction," Herrera said. "They are doing the research and talking to clients. They apply what they learn in the classroom to a real life situation. It challenges their assumptions about what being a lawyer is while getting their feet wet."
TJSL also helps low-income artists, actors, dancers, writers, musicians and filmmakers through the Arts & Entertainment Law Project – a component of the clinic. Those students provide assistance on copyright and trademark issues and IP protection under the direction of professor Jeff Slattery.
While the SBLC provides a wide variety of legal assistance, its services do not include court representation, litigation or patent work.
Prospective clients can call or send a request through the clinic's website but have to meet certain financial requirements. Unfortunately, the school can't see everyone, and there is a waiting list to get in.
"We can't talk to everyone who calls in," Herrera said.
The school began accepting requests last August and moved into its current office on the first floor of TJSL's East Village campus at the end of January. The SBLC will have its official open house unveiling on Wednesday.
The SBLC has received 60 requests since August. The clinic has been able to take on 20 clients and has closed four cases already.
“They (small businesses and nonprofits) are the bedrock of our community and Thomas Jefferson students are thrilled to have a role in supporting community entrepreneurship,” Herrera said.