Over the past several years, community development and social entrepreneurship have become widely recognized as strategies with the potential to revitalize persistently poor urban and rural areas. Although the non-profit organizations and low-wealth entrepreneurs that are at the forefront of this work have achieved many successes, they have not had the impact that many believe can be achieved and which is necessary to significantly improve the quality of life in low-wealth communities. There are several reasons for this, but one critical barrier is the lack of access to sophisticated and specialized legal services.
Entrepreneurial community development strategies rely on business transactions that are complex and often involve aspects of multiple legal disciplines. Thus, to be fully effective, entrepreneurs and community development organizations need access to expert legal services on an on-going basis. However, they often cannot obtain the representation they need due to inadequate financial resources and because the supply of legal expertise in the relevant fields of law is insufficient. The Community Enterprise Clinic, which was launched in the fall of 2002, is a strategic initiative by Duke Law School designed to address this significant problem, while also providing critical experiential learning opportunities for Duke Law Students.
The Community Enterprise Clinic, which operates like a public interest law firm and is staffed by Duke Law students and faculty, provides its clients with the legal services needed to plan, develop and implement strategies that will build and protect wealth and assets, create jobs and promote sustainable development in low-wealth communities. The clinic represents clients that, regardless of their stage of development, engage in activities that have the potential to promote systemic change and significantly impact persistent poverty.
"The Duke Community Enterprise Clinic has been instrumental in our advocacy efforts to promote economic justice. The technical assistance has enabled us to strengthen our organization's governance structure, establish a stockholder advocacy fund and evaluate legal implications of our advocacy efforts."
– Peter Skillern, Executive Director, Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina