Nonprofit Organizations and Small Businesses Clinic
One of the first things that drew Nicole Altman '07 to the Nonprofit Organizations/Small Businesses Clinic was the opportunity to work closely with clients. Nicole's partner, Tiana Murillo '07, had worked for several nonprofits on issues of immigration policy and neighborhood development and had gone to law school specifically to bolster her policy background with a substantive understanding of law. Both students wanted to go beyond the classroom experience and do practical work that would have a positive effect on people's lives. Their wishes were fulfilled by a start-up community development group in Brooklyn, called Helping Young People Excel, Inc. (HYPE), which came to the Clinic for help with all of the legal work necessary to get a new organization up and running.
Nicole, who is from Honolulu, Hawaii, and Tiana, who is from Chino, Cal.,started working with HYPE in October 2005. They began by trying to understand the group's purposes and aspirations, which they translated into the documents necessary to incorporate the group. They then worked to develop the organization's governance structure and to create the documents needed to apply for federal tax-exempt status. The application was submitted in May 2006. Along the way, Tiana and Nicole advised the group on intellectual property issues and drafted a services contract for its use.
Nicole Altman (left) and Tiana Murillo (right), students in the Nonprofit Organizations/Small Businesses Clinic, meet with Tanya Odums, founder of HYPE: Helping Young People Excel, Inc.
HYPE is the brainchild of a dynamic and motivated social worker who is pursuing a range of holistic solutions to help youth in the community who are not thriving. Her approach is to give young people creative and constructive means of expression with the goal of empowering them and helping them to reach their potential. The organization offers recreational therapy, dance, arts, and drama programs.
"HYPE's founders have been wonderful to work with. They are extremely energetic, motivated, and dedicated. They are very appreciative of having pro bono assistance from law students," says Nicole.
Clinic students working with nonprofit organizations address a broad range of corporate, tax, and intellectual-property issues and draft documents ranging from certificates of incorporation and applications for tax exemption to contracts of all sorts. Through classroom work and close supervision, they gain the substantive knowledge, the skills, and the confidence needed to walk people through the processes of creating organizations and effecting change.
During the year, Nicole and Tiana also helped three other nonprofits, one dealing with women's rights and drug policy reform, one building low-income housing, and another seeking reform of unemployment insurance laws. They also counseled a woman who was considering launching a small handbag business.
"The clinic has been a fantastic experience," says Tiana, who felt a personal affinity for the community development organization and the woman who started it. "She has been inspiring because she is up against a lot of challenges. But she has legitimacy because she is from the community where she's working and is not trying to impose something on the kids." Tiana also has high praise for the dedicated students in the clinic and for excellent instruction by Professor Barbara Schatz.
For Nicole, the clinic has transformed her knowledge of nonprofits and increased her respect for them. It has also expanded her ideas of the various roles lawyers can play.
Says Tiana, "I remain surprised about how much we were able to accomplish. Even as a student, you can give a lot of guidance to someone who has no access to legal services."