Preparing Students for the Social Sector at Duke Law School
Article Date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Written By: Andrew H. Foster
Duke University School of Law provides a number of curricular and student-led initiatives that offer students the opportunity to develop the substantive legal knowledge and professional skills needed to work effectively with social sector clients, including traditional nonprofit organizations and more innovative “hybrid” entities. These courses and other initiatives are enriched by the Law School’s location within a University that includes many other schools, programs, and academic units that also focus on the social sector. Duke Law students can thus develop their knowledge across multiple domains, work collaboratively with students from other disciplines, and begin to understand how to meet the needs of social sector clients from an interdisciplinary perspective. This brief article will highlight some of the key programs currently operating in other parts of the University and will then focus on courses, clinical offerings, and other initiatives at the Law School.
Among nonprofit practitioners, Duke University is well known for its Certificate in Nonprofit Management, but this is just one of many service, teaching and research initiatives at the University focused on the social sector. Some of the others include:
1. DukeEngage: DukeEngage provides funding for Duke undergraduates who wish to pursue an immersive (minimum of eight weeks) service experience by meeting a community need locally, domestically or internationally. Often, though not always, these immersive service experiences are conducted through a nonprofit or non-governmental organization.
2. The Enterprising Leadership Initiative: Led by Professor Tony Brown, ELI is an undergraduate program within the Hart Leadership Program that combines academic courses and service learning opportunities to help students develop both the inclination and skills needed to address pressing social problems.
3. The Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Volunteerism: The Center is located within the Sanford School of Public Policy and is a catalyst for research and teaching on the philanthropic and voluntary sectors.
4. The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship: CASE is a nationally recognized research and education center based at the Fuqua School of Business. It promotes the entrepreneurial pursuit of social impact through the thoughtful adaptation of business expertise to the social sector.
For these and many other teaching, service, and research activities, including those at the Law School that are described below, Duke University was recently named a “Changemaker Campus” by the Ashoka Foundation. As such, Duke is part of a consortium of colleges and universities that are working collaboratively to accelerate
their collective growth as hubs of social innovation. The consortium currently consists of nine schools with plans to expand to thirty.
Operating in this context, the Law School is well positioned to play a distinctive role in helping to train the next generation of lawyers to represent, support, and lead the nonprofit sector. Some of the key elements of the Law School’s programming in this area include faculty, courses, clinics and other experiential education opportunities, and student organizations.
Students at Duke Law School interested in learning about the legal regimes that govern the social sector are very fortunate to have access to nationally recognized faculty experts on the field. In particular, Professor Richard Schmalbeck, the Simpson Bartlett & Thatcher Professor of Law, and Professor Joel Fleishman, a Professor of Law and Public Policy, are well known for their work on nonprofit organizations and philanthropic institutions. Additionally, the Law School’s clinical faculty includes Professors Andrew Foster and Jeff Ward, both of whom focus their teaching, scholarship, and clinical law practices on the nonprofit sector.
In addition to the many transactional law courses that are foundational for business lawyers working with either for-profit or nonprofit entities, Duke Law School offers courses that focus on the unique legal regimes that apply to the social sector. Among these are:
• Nonprofit Organizations, a course taught by Professor Schmalbeck that investigates the economic function of nonprofits, the tax laws covering them, abuses of their special status, and policy issues regarding this type of entity;
• Philanthropy, Voluntarism and Not-For-Profit Law and Management, a course taught by Professor Fleishman that explores the extent to which voluntary action can fulfill both individual and societal needs;
• Community Economic Development Law, a course taught by Professor Foster that focuses on the legal issues related to the involvement of tax-exempt organizations in efforts to revitalize poor communities through community-based economic development strategies.
Building on these doctrinal courses, Duke Law School offers its students the opportunity to deepen their substantive legal knowledge at the same time that they develop their professional skills through externships and clinical courses. About 25 students each semester participate in externships. These are supervised placements in which students perform legal services for their host organizations, many of which are nonprofits. Such externships offer students the opportunity to work in many substantive areas and in widely varied settings. As such, they provide a rich setting for students to experience (and experiment with) diverse kinds of practices in the social sector.
In addition to externships, the experiential education opportunities at Duke Law School for students interested in nonprofit practice include the Community Enterprise Clinic. The Clinic operates like a small private law firm and provides students with practical training in many of the core skills required in any transactional legal practice, including interviewing, counseling, drafting, and negotiation. Under the supervision of the clinical faculty, students represent a wide variety of nonprofit organizations engaged in community development activities. In their cases, students work on a wide variety of legal matters for their clients. These include entity formation (both for-profit and nonprofit); obtaining tax-exempt status for nonprofit clients and providing ongoing tax compliance counseling; negotiating and drafting contracts; and representing clients in community development transactions. For many Duke Law students interested in the social sector, the Clinic serves as a capstone experience.
Student organizations also play a major role in the intellectual life of Duke Law School and the Association for Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation is no exception. Founded by a group of first and second year law students in 2010, ASEI promotes entrepreneurial legal leadership in the service of society by:
• Supporting students interested in applying legal expertise to advance positive social change;
• Developing social entrepreneurship-related career resources and networking opportunities;
• Increasing awareness of social entrepreneurship and innovation at Duke Law;
• Collaborating with social entrepreneurship organizations throughout the Duke community; and
• Facilitating opportunities for student involvement in community projects at the intersection of law and social enterprise.
Though a young organization, ASEI is already capitalizing on the interest of many of our law students to engage in new ways with social sector organizations at Duke and throughout the surrounding community.
Duke Law School provides a rich array of opportunities for students interested in the social sector to develop the substantive legal knowledge and professional skills needed to be effective lawyers in this area of practice. These opportunities are further enriched by the varied and interdisciplinary research, service learning, and academic programs offered across the campus. Collectively, these initiatives and the faculty members who lead them make Duke Law School a wonderful environment for law students interested in working with nonprofit organizations, particularly those that seek to use innovative strategies, structures, and financing mechanisms to meet the challenge of society’s most pressing problems. •
Foster is Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Community Enterprise Clinic at the Duke University School of Law.
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