The Charlotte School of Law Addresses the Nonprofit Sector’s Lack of Access to Legal Services
Article Date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Written By: Rocky M. Cabagnot
In Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits, Attorney Lesley Rosenthal states, “ Of the nations’ one million charitable organizations, only a miniscule fraction has regular access to counsel, whether in-house or outside, paid or volunteer.” Similar to the ‘Justice Gap’ where the indigent cannot afford access to adequate civil legal services, the majority of our nonprofit (particularly community- based) organizations do not have the budgets to access quality legal assistance. Moreover, in light of recent corporate scandals, the government has increased the emphasis on corporate accountability and transparency through more enacted laws and regulations. While our nonprofit organizations might have been able to navigate the previous regulatory terrain without legal counsel, today nonprofit organizations journey at their own peril without the advice of counsel.
In addition to increasing regulatory and corporate governance requirements, nonprofits face increasingly complex business law issues. Today’s nonprofit organizations face issues regarding such matters as employee contracts, physical locations or facilities to operate, intellectual property, communication strategies, and insurance. Given the importance of the nonprofit sector and its lack of access to good legal counsel, law schools should devote more attention to this problem. Specifically, they should invest in a curriculum that teaches our students doctrinal nonprofit law and provides experiential learning opportunities to provide direct legal services to the underserved nonprofit sector. The Charlotte School of Law (Charlotte Law) is investing in such a curriculum.
Charlotte Law’s Commitment to Serving the Nonprofit Sector
Charlotte Law recognizes that the nonprofit sector needs more access to legal services. We are expanding experiential learning opportunities in nonprofit law to provide needed legal services to this sector (fulfilling our mission of serving the underserved) while increasing the transactional law practice readiness of our graduates.
Currently, Charlotte Law offers interested students substantive doctrinal and experiential opportunities to learn about and to serve the nonprofit sector. Students desiring a more general understanding of nonprofit law can enroll in the doctrinal Nonprofit Organizations course. Students seeking “hands on” learning concerning the nonprofit sector can assist live clients in forming a nonprofit organization in our Entrepreneur and Nonprofit Law Clinic, soon to be renamed the Community Economic Development Clinic: Entrepreneurship. Additionally, through our Corporate Counsel Co-op program, students are placed under the supervision of experienced in-house counsel at high performing nonprofits such as private foundations.
We intend to provide more experiential learning opportunities for our students to learn about and to serve the nonprofit sector. Beginning this summer, and running year-round, Charlotte Law students will get the opportunity to serve as outside general counsel to a variety of nonprofit community-based organizations with the launching of our new Community Economic Development Clinic: Community Revitalization. Under the supervision of clinical faculty, our student attorneys will provide legal services to nonprofit affordable housing developers, microfinance organizations, and other community-based organizations. Our student attorneys will develop transactional skills by advising these organizations and their boards of directors concerning such matters as corporate governance, nonprofit law, employment, real estate development, environmental concerns, and land use. Through their representation and service, our student attorneys will be directly addressing the nonprofit sector’s lack of access to legal services.
While it may take years to insure the nonprofit sector’s access to quality legal services, Charlotte Law is addressing this gap by our focus on student practice readiness and service to the underserved. Our expanded experiential learning opportunities regarding the nonprofit sector will ensure that more of our future attorneys pursue both paid and pro bono work on behalf of the important yet underserved nonprofit sector. •
Cabagnot is Assistant Professor of Law at Charlotte School of Law and the Clinical Supervising Attorney for the Community Economic Development Clinic: Community Revitalization.
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