Economic advocate-- Professor dedicated to helping small businesses

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

For Professor Dana Thompson, small business is big news--and the key to a community's economic growth.

Thompson (née Roach), a clinical assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan, is an authority on small business law. She teaches in the U-M Urban Communities Clinic, providing legal services to community-based organizations and small businesses, and previously taught a small business and affordable housing clinic as a visiting professor.

Before U-M, Thompson was on the faculty of Wayne State University, where in 2007 she founded and directed the Small Business Enterprises and Nonprofit Corporations Clinic program--a.k.a. the Small Business Clinic.

"From a young age, I've been driven by the desire to effect change in disadvantaged communities," she says. "I recognize that one of the ways to effect change is to cultivate the growth of small businesses and I'm honored to use my legal knowledge and experience to enable people to empower themselves through business.

"Small businesses create most jobs in the United States and drive innovation. I believe in the power of small business to revitalize impoverished communities by creating employment opportunities, providing necessary products and services and enhancing the tax base."

Thompson, who has particular expertise in corporate, nonprofit, and commercial real estate law, sits on Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm's Emerging Small Business Leaders and Entrepreneurial Council and was recognized by Community Legal Resources (CLR) for her contributions in helping start up Detroit-area nonprofits.

A member of the planning committee of the E2 Detroit Entrepreneurship Conference since 2007, she also was among 65 professionals selected to participate in Leadership Detroit's Class XXIX.

She is a member of the Detroit Regional Chamber's Small Business Advisory Council, and sits on the Finance Committee of Habitat for Humanity Detroit.

Thompson, who has been quoted in Crain's Detroit Business, The Michigan Chronicle and WDET-101.9FM, was a contributing author to "Building Healthy Communities: A Guide to Community Economic Development for Advocates, Lawyers and Policymakers," published by the American Bar Association's Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law.

After earning her bachelor's degree at Bryn Mawr College, Thompson earned her J.D. at the U-M Law School, where she was a contributing editor of the Michigan Law Review. It was a pleasure for her to return to the Gothic buildings of the W. Cook Law Quadrangle--"The Quad"--in Ann Arbor and teach the next generation of law students.

"I'm delighted to teach at my alma mater where renowned scholars and clinical professors teach tomorrow's lawyers about the law and its impact on our society," she says. "As a clinical professor, it's fulfilling for me to see the evolution of my students during the course of the semester, from law students to perceptive and engaged legal practitioners."

During her time as a student at U-M, she participated in the South Africa externship program and worked with a non-governmental organization at the University of the Western Cape.

"My experiences in South Africa impacted me profoundly because I gained a global understanding of how the rule of law affects the lives of the disadvantaged," she says. "I contributed to early efforts that helped to modernize South Africa's laws against sexual assault. At the University of the Western Cape's Community Law Centre, I was charged with researching the sexual assault laws of various nations around the world."

Thompson, who also studied in France and South Africa, worked as an associate attorney in the commercial real estate division of Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, an international law firm; and in the real estate and transactional law group at Miller, Starr & Regalia in Walnut Creek, Calif. She was a regional attorney with The Nature Conservancy, and represented TNC on land conservation transactions.

At Wayne State, she was director of the Damon J. Keith Law Collection of African American Legal History, named after a senior judge of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose work inspired a generation of African-American lawyers.

"It was a privilege to work with Judge Keith and for an institution that is helping to preserve the legacy of African-American lawyers and to strengthen civil rights in our nation."

Published: Mon, Sep 6, 2010