Summary of Activities and Accomplishments
The Duke Law School Community Enterprise Clinic (the “Clinic”) completed its fifth semester of operations this past December. Although the Clinic operates on a year-round basis, the beginning of a new semester is a good time to pause and reflect on our recent activities. This past semester was an exciting time of steady growth and accomplishment. We worked on a number of unique and challenging matters for both new and returning clients.
This fall the Clinic enrolled 12 Duke Law students and represented 40 clients, several of whom had multiple matters. Collectively, these students and the Clinic’s faculty provided more than 2,300 hours of legal services to these clients. This represents at least $380,000 worth of legal services offered at no cost to the Clinic’s clients.1 The cost of operating the Clinic during this period was approximately $80,000. Thus, the resources of the Clinic were leveraged at a rate of nearly 5 to 1 to create a substantial community impact.
The Clinic provided substantial community benefits, as well as rich educational opportunities for the Duke Law students enrolled in the Clinic. Students developed critical legal skills and deepened their substantive legal knowledge. As a result, all of the students indicated that they felt the Clinic helped to prepare them to successfully transition into practice and many said that the Clinic was the highlight of their Duke Law experience.
This summary briefly describes the Clinic’s activities and accomplishments over this past semester in each of the following areas: organizational development, legal education and community impact.
During the fall, the Clinic continued its growth by increasing its enrollment size from 10 to 12 students. This increased enrollment allows the Clinic to serve the educational needs of a greater number of students and to handle more legal matters.
The Clinic also completed a formal organizational assessment that was conducted by Christine Murashige, who is currently a second-year MBA student at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. As Christine described during the fall advisory board meeting, this organizational assessment has allowed the Clinic to further refine its mission and to implement a number of steps to better evaluate its impact, increase its community profile and maximize students’ educational opportunities.
The Clinic also expanded the range of its work to include the representation of non-profit clients on shareholder advocacy campaigns intended to impact corporate policy on important social policy issues. To date, the Clinic has represented one non-profit client in its shareholder advocacy campaigns aimed at eradicating predatory lending.
In addition to expanding its enrollment and taking on new types of cases, the Clinic also had continuing success raising funds to support its work from private foundations. Last summer, the Clinic received a two-year, $50,000 grant from the North Carolina Fund of the Racial Justice Collaborative. The Clinic also recently received a three-year $25,000 grant from BB&T, as well as a second grant of $50,000 from the Duke Endowment through the Duke Office of Community Affairs. The Clinic plans to submit grant proposals to the Golden Leaf Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kaufmann Foundation, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the F. B. Heron Foundation and the Public Welfare Foundation in the coming months.
Educational Activities and Accomplishments
The Clinic represented an increased and significant number of clients this fall on perhaps the widest range of matters since the Clinic’s inception. These cases offered the Duke Law students enrolled in the Clinic meaningful opportunities to develop critical legal skills. For example, each student had primary responsibility for at least two matters and most students were responsible for either multiple clients or multiple matters. This provided all of the students with extensive opportunities to develop fundamental legal skills such as client interviewing, client counseling and case management.
Because the Clinic primarily represents clients in transactional matters, the students also had the chance to develop legal skills that are particular to this type of practice. Specifically, students engaged in drafting and negotiating transactional documents and working with clients to structure business arrangements, taking into account corporate, tax, securities and other areas of law. In some cases, students assisted clients in every aspect of a matter from drafting to negotiation to closing. In other matters, students took on a counseling role where they provided valuable advice to clients. No matter the outcome of the cases they worked on, however, students indicated that having the opportunity to counsel clients and negotiate on behalf of clients was an extremely valuable experience and gave them both better skills and more confidence as they prepared to transition from Duke Law to practice.
Through their work in the Clinic, students also had the chance to increase their knowledge across a wide variety of substantive legal areas including: real estate law, corporate law, securities law, administrative law, employee compensation and benefits law, tax law and the law of tax-exempt organizations. The matters this semester were both diverse and perhaps the most complex matters that the Clinic has handled. As a result, students were able to work on cases that deepened their understanding of a particular area of law while they were engaged in important skills development. The following examples highlight the multiple educational opportunities offered to students through their enrollment in the Clinic.
- Ron Aizen, a third-year student who will be working in the employee benefits department of a large law firm in New York city following graduation, represented a client in connection with its efforts to spur employers to offer individual development accounts (“IDA”) to their low-wealth employees. IDA accounts are intended to enable low-wealth individuals to save for certain key expenses, such as a home or education. This project required Ron to quickly gain a deep familiarity with tax and employee benefits law. Ron also received invaluable assistance on this project from Duke Law Professor Larry Zelenak. Throughout Ron’s representation of this client, he deepened his understanding of these areas of the law and, in addition, he developed substantial experience analyzing difficult issues and drafting a client memo explaining these complex matters in language easily accessible to non-lawyers.
- Demarron Berkley, a third-year student who will be clerking for a federal judge in Florida after graduation, represented a low-wealth entrepreneur in negotiations related to a commercial lease for retail space for her business. In a relatively short time frame, Demarron had to review and understand the lease, educate his client on the key issues with the lease and negotiate the lease on behalf of his client. Demarron not only learned about general issues involved in a basic commercial lease, but also developed his counseling, drafting and negotiation skills.
- Nora Doolin, a third-year student who will be clerking for a federal bankruptcy judge in Charlotte, NC after graduation, represented a non-profit client in connection with a predatory payday lending shareholder proposal that was submitted to a financial institution. Nora quickly learned about the complex securities rules that govern shareholder proposals and applied the rules by drafting a shareholder proposal. In addition, Nora learned about the legal and business aspects of the payday lending industry. By working on this matter, Nora also was able to apply what she learned in her Business Associations class to help her client prepare its shareholder proposal.
These are just three examples of the Clinic’s activities and accomplishments with respect to its educational mission this semester. While each student worked on different clients and different matters, each student had a similar educational experience. As a result, all of the students indicated that the Clinic was a key part of their education at Duke Law and that participation in the Clinic helped to position them for a successful transition to their post-graduation activities.
Community Service Activities and Accomplishments
As the above examples suggest, the clients of the Clinic also benefited greatly from our services. The Clinic is able to provide sophisticated legal services at no cost, which substantially reduces the transaction costs associated with our clients’ activities. This helps to make a wider range of transactions more feasible. Even more important, however, is the counseling that the Clinic provides to clients. Our knowledge of financing options, assistance with structuring transactions and strategic advice enabled many clients to initiate impact-oriented community development projects that they would have been otherwise unable to undertake. In addition, all of the clients surveyed during our organizational assessment reported that they were very pleased with the legal services provided by the Clinic. Certain clients also provided financial contributions to the Clinic during our direct fundraising effort as a further vote of approval.
Some significant results of the Clinic’s work this fall, in addition to those described above, include the following.
- Assistance in creating a non-profit joint venture that will result in a $100,000 revolving loan fund for small businesses. The Clinic assisted a non-profit in developing a joint venture with a municipality in order to manage a loan fund that will provide loans to small businesses in eastern North Carolina. This loan fund will meet a critical financing need for small business owners who are often unable to access capital from traditional lenders.
- Presented training sessions on legal issues to at least 45 small business owners. The Clinic provided two training sessions this fall to individuals who are currently operating a small business or who plan to start a small business in the future. The training sessions focused on the key legal issues that a small business owner should consider in choosing an entity for the business. These training sessions were part of the small business training program operated by a local non-profit organization and met an important community need. Following the trainings, the Clinic assisted some participants with the start-up phase of their business or provided additional consultation to further assist participants in developing their business idea. The Clinic expects to work with additional participants as they develop their business ideas.
- Provided legal services to 11 small businesses, which enabled them to begin or expand operations. The Clinic represented small business clients on a variety of matters, such as counseling on contract negotiation and drafting, entity formation and regulatory research. With the Clinic’s assistance, these small businesses were able to create at least 6 jobs. It is expected that these businesses will create additional jobs as the businesses continue to grow.
- Assisted a charter school in its incorporation and application for tax-exempt status. The Clinic assisted a charter school that had been operated by a third party in creating a new non-profit entity that will manage and operate the charter school. This will allow the school to continue to operate and provide educational opportunities for more than 160 children who live in low-income communities.
- Counseled a non-profit organization that is engaged in challenging exclusionary zoning policies. In partnership with the Civil Rights Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Clinic is working with a non-profit organization to challenge exclusionary zoning policies that allow cities to exercise zoning jurisdiction over particular areas that are outside city limits without also providing basic city services to those areas, such as water and sewer. Such practices typically impact low-wealth and minority communities and are a significant systemic barrier to community development in those areas.
These are a few examples of the many things that the Clinic helped its clients achieve last semester. We are very excited about the results that this on-going collaboration with entrepreneurs and community-based organizations is producing and expect to achieve greater impact in the future.
The Clinic continues to grow and demonstrate that it is well positioned to meet both its educational and community service missions. Duke Law students enrolled in the Clinic continue to have outstanding opportunities to build their legal skills and strengthen their substantive knowledge of law through the learning experience offered by the Clinic. In addition, these students work with the Clinic’s faculty to provide high-quality, sophisticated legal services to clients that often would not have access to legal services. This has enabled the Clinic’s clients to achieve significant results that promote community development in many areas around North Carolina. It is exciting to see the multiple educational and community benefits provided by the Clinic and we look forward to the Clinic’s continuing development.
1 The portion of this figure attributable to time worked by Duke Law students is based on an assumed billing rate of $100/hour for a third-year law student. These rates are similar to those charged at large law firms in North Carolina for law clerks.