Community Enterprise Clinic
Students in the Community Enterprise Clinic provide legal assistance to nonprofit organizations and small businesses that cannot pay market rates for legal services. The clinic is of special interest to those interested in community development, in learning to work with organizational clients, and in learning how to represent clients in transactions.
The emphasis is on planning: Students work to understand clients' hopes and aspirations, help them anticipate and solve problems, and educate them about their responsibilities as heads of nonprofits or businesses. Interested students can also participate in special projects, such as a clinic-sponsored conference to identify and address barriers to microenterprise.
Clinic students prepare for their client work in the following ways:
- An intensive seminar
- Weekly supervision meetings with the professor
- Simulations (some videotaped), which extensively critiqued by both students and teacher.
Students also learn the substantive law about forming and operating nonprofit organizations and small businesses; think through the distinctive interviewing, counseling, and ethical issues that arise in representing organizations rather than individuals; and, above all, practice how to interview and counsel a group client. They also learn to draft documents, focusing on writing that is precise, economical, and comprehensible to their clients. In class and in supervision meetings, students explore many important lawyering issues through the lens of their cases: decision-making under conditions of uncertainty, the allocation of power between lawyers and clients, and the challenges in representing groups whose members disagree.
Some of the clinic's clients are young, nonprofit organizations that need help in choosing appropriate entities for the conduct of their programs, developing governance structures, securing tax exemptions, and complying with regulatory requirements. Others are more mature groups that need help addressing the legal issues arising from changes such as expansion, creation of a national program, or initiation of income-generating activities. Recent nonprofit clients have included Housing Plus Solutions, an organization that helps women leaving prison or long-term treatment programs, and UHAB Housing Development Fund Corporation, an organization that rehabilitates tax-foreclosed buildings and sells them as low-income cooperatives to tenants. Other clients have included individuals operating small businesses such as family day care, catering companies, and printing shops. These clients are primarily located in disadvantaged neighborhoods in New York City, such as Harlem, Washington Heights, and the South Bronx. They seek the clinic's assistance to form appropriate business structures, enter into contracts, and comply with regulatory requirements. Students also offer seminars and workshops for entrepreneurs on corporate and tax issues.
Case Example: A Bronx Café is Born
Emily Flores was one of many women in low-income communities with the imagination and drive to create a small business. She first came to the clinic for help in creating non-compete and non-disclosure agreements to protect the special recipes and techniques used in her home-based pastry business. The success of this business inspired her to try to start a café in her Bronx neighborhood. Clinic students helped Flores think through the right structure for her business, given the desire for equity participation by both the chef and a lender, and then drafted a certificate of incorporation, bylaws, and a shareholders agreement, all in plain language and tailored to Flores's particular circumstances. The clinic also represented the business in taking over a lease to a storefront and in closing a loan for the rehabilitation of the space. Today, the business is thriving and the students who worked with Flores have the satisfaction of having helped a dynamic woman achieve her dream and contribute to the commercial vitality of a Bronx community.
In Action: Students' Work In The Community Enterprise Clinic
Nicole Altman ’07 and Tiana Murillo '07 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 startup community development group in Brooklyn, called Helping Young People Excel, Inc. (HYPE).
Read about their work and the Community Enterprise Clinic In Action.
Faculty Highlight: Professor Barbara Schatz
Barbara Schatz joined the Law School faculty in 1985. She served as director of clinical education from 1996 to 2001.
To read Schatz’s full biography and to find her contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.