PUBLISHED:November 20, 2008

Making a difference through transactional work

Nov. 20, 2008 — For 3L Mike Kaplan, a semester in the Community Enterprise Clinic has provided an interesting and inspiring link between the reasons he came to law school and the work he hopes to do after graduating next May. “I came to Duke in part because I saw that they had a Community Enterprise Clinic,” says Kaplan, who also took the Community Economic Development course last year. “I am really interested in community economic development and the ways that employers can help people access money and get housing.”

That interest in community economic development was sparked when, as an undergraduate history major at the University of Michigan, Kaplan took a course titled “The History of the American Suburbs.”

“We talked about the politics, planning, and pop culture of the suburbs,” he says. “Social justice has always been important to me. But it was interesting to see how issues of land use have affected social justice and the ways that resource allocation — from a government standpoint — led to inequalities and varied opportunities for people. That really got me interested in land use and also the ways that governments can infuse energy and capital into low-income communities.”

While in the Community Enterprise Clinic, Kaplan has managed three projects: completing a legal audit for a local nonprofit to determine whether it is operating in compliance with its organizational documents, applicable state and federal law, and best practices related to corporate governance; assisting a regional nonprofit to develop a strategy for utilizing renewable energy tax credits to finance sustainable community development activities; and developing a restructuring plan for Student Funded Fellowships, Inc., an independent nonprofit organization that provides fellowships for Duke 1L students who work in public interest internships.

“I really enjoy the tax credit work,” Kaplan says. “I think that it’s an interesting way for the government to create incentives to encourage people to invest in low-income communities or to develop in low-income or communities that otherwise wouldn’t see capital.”

Kaplan, who worked at Nixon Peabody in Washington, D.C. over the summer primarily because of its strong focus on tax credit work, says he appreciates the strategic thinking and business analysis required for such transactions. “I think the clinic is a really interesting way to get involved in transactional work and also do a lot of good,” he says.

“So many people come to law school — and I’m one of them — and say, ‘I really want to help people,’” he continues. “I came to law school hoping that I could help people make changes on a day to day basis, such as ensuring that they have housing and food. One of the best things about the clinic is that it has shown me ways that lawyers can do that.”

In addition, Kaplan says his writing and communication skills have improved greatly due to his clinic experience. “Even though I worked before I came to school and had client interaction, when you are a lawyer, the client’s expectations for you are so different,” he says. Writing memos for clients has been especially helpful, he adds, because the level of clarity and vocabulary required for those are much different than what is used in the classroom.

“The clinic has really been, hands down, the best thing I’ve done in law school,” he says.