Duke Law Community Enterprise Clinic: Preparing tomorrow’s business lawyers today

November 20, 2007Duke Law News

November 20, 2007 — The Community Enterprise Clinic is a transactional law clinic at Duke Law School. Through their representation of clients in the clinic, students develop critical lawyering and problem solving skills that position them to excel in the types of situations faced everyday by business lawyers. For Travis Souza ’08 and Mike Pisetsky ’08, two CE Clinic students, this “real world” approach is both an accurate description and welcome addition to their education at Duke Law.

Souza, who has accepted a job at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Dallas, where he hopes to focus on mergers and acquisitions, sees the clinic as the perfect place to hone his legal skills and gain an understanding of the “big picture.” Souza has been assisting the Chrysalis Foundation in its acquisition of another nonprofit, Family Wellness & Recovery Services. Working on the project from start to finish — from deciding whether this would be a merger or an acquisition to drafting the final documents to seal the deal — is a unique opportunity that Souza believes will set him ahead of the curve as a new attorney.

“The skills that you develop in the clinic are completely different from what you learn in class, and in a sense, probably much more valuable,” Souza says, noting that his biggest hurdle to overcome this semester was simply learning to ask the right questions.

“When you go in as a first-year associate, you’re not thinking strategy,” Souza says. “You’re going to be assigned such a small piece of the bigger project that it’s hard to understand how it fits in. Doing something like what I’m doing right now, with Chrysalis and Family Wellness, is allowing me to see the entire process. So, at any point in the future when I am asked to review certain documents or draft others, it will be much easier for me to see how [what I am doing] fits into the big picture to better understand what I am looking for and to more effectively fill that role.”

Pisetsky, a joint JD/MBA student headed to Cooley Godward Kronish in Palo Alto, Calif. after graduation, appreciates the opportunity to experience both the business and legal aspects of real estate development through his project. Pisetsky has been working on a development plan for property recently purchased by the Community Reinvestment Association of North Carolina (CRA*NC). He describes his role with the local nonprofit as “sort of an embedded development associate in the organization, looking at the business and financial aspects as well as advising on the legal matters.”

“The project I’m working on is helping to catalyze the development of the neighborhood CRA*NC works in — in downtown Durham,” Pisetsky says. The organization purchased a building at Geer and Roxoboro Streets in Northeast/Central Durham three years ago and turned it into their headquarters, he explains. Then, after working for several years with neighborhood residents to combat issues of blight and crime, they recently purchased one of the plots of land adjacent to their headquarters with the intent to further improve the community through new development.

“The whole neighborhood is in a lot of change,” Pisetsky says. Many local homeowners are remodeling the older houses in the area, helping some of the issues, he notes, but CRA*NC’s presence there, as a nonprofit working with area residents to achieve positive change, seems to be most effective.

“Clinical education is a good supplement to what you learn in the classroom,” Pisetsky says. “In my experience, the practice of law is very different from the way law is taught, especially in your 1L classes. I think this is a good bridge and a way you can put what you learn in the classroom to work in a real world way — without all of the pressures of being at a firm.”
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Travis Souza '08 and Mike Pisetsky '08 are two students in the Community Enterprise Clinic.