Transactional Legal Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law
Article Date: Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Written By: Thomas A. Kelley III
There are few professions as powerful as the law. Lawyers write, interpret, and enforce the laws and rules by which we live together. In doing so, as Richard Abel observed, the law often reinforces the social and economic inequities that exist in our society. In January 2009, Wake Forest University School of Law launched a multidisciplinary clinical program that allows our law students the opportunity to develop the core competencies they will bring into their practice while also reflecting on the power of the law to help individuals and communities improve their economic circumstances. Over the last two and one-half years the Community Law and Business Clinic at Wake Forest University School of Law has emerged as a provider of high quality legal services, a clinical program that offers our students a worthwhile professional development experience, and a resource that is available to support targeted economic development efforts in our community.
The Community Law and Business Clinic opened its doors in downtown Winston-Salem in January 2009. From the beginning, the clinic was envisioned as a multi-disciplinary program. To this end, Wake Forest law student work with students from the Graduate School of Business to assist clients. Law students are certified to practice under North Carolina's attorney supervision rules for law students. They provide assistance with the typical range of legal issues that face small enterprises, including entity selection and formation, trademark, employment agreements, contract review and revision, and regulatory compliance. This is not, however, an exhaustive list. As with any practice, in addition to the typical range of issues that arise, the clinic also assists with less common legal issues, including, for example, the regulatory environment facing lacto-fermentation.
Since January 2009, more than 70 law students have worked with nearly 350 clients in the Community Law and Business Clinic. Students spend on average 12 hours each week preparing research and meeting with and advising clients. Because student interest has been so high, with more than 40 students seeking to enroll in 10 - 12 slots each semester, students tend to be in the third year of law school and to have a proven interest in transactional law.
Clients are drawn primarily from Winston-Salem, along with a solid contingent from western North Carolina. Eligibility is based on the client being a small business owner, usually self-employed or a member of a partnership, or non-profit corporations that serve local economic development needs. The clinic plans to sustain its current level of student and client involvement, with between 20 and 25 students advising 125-150 clients each year.
In addition to law students, the Community Law and Business Clinic offers the assistance of second-year MBA students in the Wake Forest University Graduate School of Business. Graduate business students provide assistance with business and strategic planning, price modeling, marketing and assistance with setting up books for small operating companies. These students are typically involved with larger projects that require a great amount of time to complete, and thus they tend not to work with as many clients as do our law students.
Having law and business work together allows for collaborative exchanges when appropriate. In class, students are encouraged to consider the interplay between legal and business issues, while paying close attention to client confidences. While having such collaboration allows for positive results, it does require a great deal of due diligence to assure that only students who are actively working on a matter have access to client information. And the clinic has worked to maintain appropriate safeguards.
Wake Forest School of Law has moved rapidly over the last few years to enhance an already
well-developed clinical program with the addition of the Community Law and Business Clinic. In addition to more traditional clinical courses that focus on litigation or individual representation, the Community Law and Business Clinic targets the interests of those lawyers who will become transaction, business, or corporate lawyers. It will train lawyers who put deals together, advise clients on how to structure a business, and help to keep economic development moving in our communities.
Virgil is the director of the Institute for Public Engagement and Associate Clinical Professor at Wake Forest University School of Law.
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