Small Business Enterprises and Nonprofit Corporations Clinic assists business owners

Practical experience is an increasingly important component to a high quality, comprehensive legal education. In Metropolitan Detroit, where small businesses play a vital role in economic development and community revitalization, the impact of such practical experience can extend far beyond the classroom.

Wayne State University Law School's Small Business Enterprises and Nonprofit Corporations Clinic connects students and the community in an effort to address the needs of both groups. Through the clinic, Wayne Law students represent for-profit enterprises and nonprofit organizations requiring general business start-up assistance.

"The clinic is at its heart a community economic development clinic," said Eric C. Williams, assistant clinical professor and director of the clinic. "Our goal is to rebuild and stabilize communities in Metro Detroit by helping local entrepreneurs create new businesses and the jobs that come with them. In particular, the clinic seeks to engage the 'atypical' entrepreneur--those residing in under-resourced or economically challenged communities, or individuals making their first exploration of business ownership."

The clinic, working in conjunction with the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, operates like a small law firm: students draft engagement letters, bill time, run conflicts checks and conduct client interviews under faculty guidance and supervision. Students gain hands-on experience advising clients on business structure, zoning, licensing requirements, intellectual property and other legal issues; preparing articles of incorporation, bylaws, partnership agreements and business contracts; researching trademarks and preparing trademark applications; preparing applications for tax exempt status; and representing clients in the application process with the Internal Revenue Service.

In addition to providing free legal services, clinic students also help prepare and conduct client workshops on critical legal issues and provide referrals to partner agencies that supply essential services, including mentoring, business planning and investment funding.

Through the clinic, Wayne Law students have assisted a group starting an urban farm, a chocolate company, a crafting company, a film production company, a homeless advocacy group, a prisoner rehabilitation program, an athletic program for children with autism, a summer camp for Detroit youth, a water filtration company, a company focused on teaching parenting skills, an athletic wear company, a group focused on assisting young women, a group focused on assisting young men, a group-purchasing website (similar to Groupon), and even a Wayne Law student group organizing to provide assistance to Detroit-area nonprofits.

"I've spoken to a number of past clinic students who described the clinic as their most memorable law school experience," Williams said. "I think it's easy to understand that perspective when you consider not only the skills the students developed, but the real people they met and helped along the way."

As Williams, who joined the Wayne Law faculty this summer, and participating students gear up for another year, he looks forward to connecting with and assisting area businesses and organizations.

"We are always looking for additional businesses and nonprofits to work with our students," Williams said. "This area has so much potential and we look forward to playing a role in helping our clients and community succeed."

Anyone with a small business in need legal assistance, or anyone starting a business or a nonprofit, may contact Tania Allen, clinic coordinator, at or (313) 577-8859. Clinic services are free.

Published: Tue, Nov 1, 2011