Business Innovations Clinic celebrates pilot year

Students with a community garden clientThe Business Innovations Legal Clinic at UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law has concluded its inaugural year. Clinic students gained hands-on experience by 1) providing individual legal counseling to entrepreneurs; 2) teaching workshops on small business law in the community; and 3) developing useful, toolkit-style resources for free distribution. Clients are all entrepreneurs from across the state and from a variety of sectors including food and farm, affordable housing, music and arts.

The clinic relied heavily on local organizations to find its clients. The list of partners include the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, a UA Little Rock-based business consulting firm; Remix Ideas, a business consulting social enterprise focused on the African-American and African immigrant communities; the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a maker-space and co-working lab; and Heirs of Arkansas, an organization addressing the needs of rural property owners of post-Civil War land grants with cloudy title.

The clinic’s client list included Raising Arkansas, a non-profit focused on economic development by transforming blighted, rural, post-industrial buildings into indoor farming incubators; and Hope Rises, a nonprofit organization providing transitional housing and wrap-around supportive services for post-incarcerated women that launched a healthy meal delivery service with meals created by its beneficiaries. The clinic also created a written guide helping heirs’ property owners explore legal, low-risk property development opportunities. The guide will be distributed online in the 2018-2019 school year.

Using everything from Skype to Google Docs, students provided legal services to a variety of clients across Arkansas. A few of our favorites were a traveling family circus based in Greenbrier, who was en route to Arkansas with a bunny in the passenger seat during our intake meeting; and a Little Rock property entrepreneur with reading difficulties, who was excited to leave client counseling sessions with recorded files sent to his email so that he could review the day’s session at his convenience.

Student Reactions

The popularity of the clinic grows steadily, and its enrollment is near capacity for the fall semester. Westin Meyer (class of 2018), who grew up on a farm in Searcy, Ark., and has an undergraduate degree in animal science, had the opportunity to fuse her scientific, agricultural and rural backgrounds by teaching a community legal workshop on intellectual property, and counseling Raising Arkansas on its agricultural incubator. She was able to watch her legal skills have a positive impact:

“The biggest positive surprise of the clinic is the joy/happiness that comes with the work we do,” Meyer said. “I had no idea that I would enjoy drafting an operating agreement for a non-profit organization’s LLC or that researching financing for properties with clouded titles would be so fun … well, maybe not ‘fun’, but the feeling of helping your client is incredible.”

Another student, Desha Parker (class of 2018), who attended Bowen part-time while serving as the director of the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of West Memphis, felt the clinic provided a unique experience that could not be offered in any other type of classroom setting:

“The experience of working with actual facts cannot compare to the hypos that are given to you on a law school exam,” Parker said. “Most clients are unsure about what to say and what not to say to their attorneys. So the only way to gain enough experience to be able to extract those hard-to-get facts is by gaining experience interviewing actual clients.”

Future plans

In the upcoming school year, the clinic will focus on two priorities: 1) increasing access to our resources and services for those living even further into rural areas, and 2) bringing our clients’ businesses inside our own doors.

The clinic has just solidified additional partnerships for the upcoming school year with Heifer International and Communities Unlimited, two organizations with strong ties to rural entrepreneurs.

Beginning in the fall semester, the Business Innovations Legal Clinic plans to operate the on-campus cafe and provide healthy food options, locally-sourced teas, crafts, and other items made by our clients.

If you have any questions about the Business Innovations Clinic, please visit our website or contact the clinic director.

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