On the latest episode of the WI Law in Action podcast from the UW Law Library, we talk with Anne Smith, Clinical Associate Professor of Law and Director of UW Law School’s Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic. The L&E Clinic provides legal services to early-stage companies and new entrepreneurs and aims to positively impact the Wisconsin economy. Professor Smith discusses the work of the clinic, its current projects, how the pandemic has impacted startups, and much more. Below are a few excerpts from our discussion.
Smith on the characteristics of a typical L&E client:
I’m not sure there is a typical client. The thing that they all have in common is, they want to start a business… it could be a food cart, it could be a neurosurgeon from UW hospital. We don’t have a poverty screen for the people that come into the clinic. Our check is how much money does the business make? And if the business isn’t making money, we can represent them. Our goal is not to compete with the private practice of law, so if a client gets too successful, then we kick them out. We always say, “Our students graduate and so do our clients.” We want our students to graduate to law firms or jobs that they want, and our clients to graduate and pay for legal services.
Smith on the work of L&E Clinic students:
You create your own day is what we always say. You create your own sundae… They spend some time meeting with clients. They will do a lot of research. They will do a lot of drafting of contracts and agreements and documents. And they will meet with clients, have class, meet with their supervising attorney to get feedback. We try to set it up like a law firm… Students track their hours. We check those hours. That’s how we make sure that they’re living up to their commitment to us, that they meet minimum billable hours standards. So it’s a law firm. It’s a law firm within the law school.
Smith on the shift to virtual meetings due to the pandemic:
It’s not always easy for clients to get to us for a meeting. And sometimes those meetings don’t really last very long. So it’s just more efficient, I think, for the clients to meet virtually. And we think that the students are still developing that attorney-client relationship, even though it’s virtual… We represent clients from all over the state and sometimes they’ll drive in from La Crosse. They drive in from all over. This will be a much more efficient way for us to deal with them.
Smith on the L&E Clinic’s Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative:
Jeff Glazer… and a group of students have been working to build relationships with economic development organizations around the state, including the small business development center and then more local ones. And they develop those relationships, and then they do outreach with those organizations to find out if there are people in the area that could benefit from training and office hours with regard to business transactional work….
And then they’ll do office hours where a person that is interested in starting a business can have a consultation with Jeff and a student or a group of students to talk through what their issues are. And sometimes that can resolve the issue. If it doesn’t, then they can be referred to the clinic for legal services. In addition to working with the small business development centers in the local areas, Jeff and team reach out to the local Bar Association. Sometimes there are not enough lawyers in the area, so our team of students and Jeff are a nice supplement to what they do. Sometimes there’s lawyers in the area that are they’re good lawyers, but they aren’t familiar with startup issues. So that can be a good partnership. So I think the whole thing, it’s all about partnerships, relationships, outreach, and extending what we do beyond the Madison Milwaukee areas.
Smith on L&E’s new video series dealing with startup issues:
Tami [Patel] is leading a project with the Small Business Development Center to create a series of seven videos dealing with startup issues. So there are seven topics… One is why create a legal entity at all. And then entity selection, which goes through the various kinds of entities. And then an operating agreement discussion. If you have an LLC operating agreement, it tends to be a complicated document. And the SBDC wanted an explanation of what would be in an operating agreement. And then one on intellectual property, focused mostly on trademarks and copyrights. Worker classification, which is independent contractor versus employee and exempt versus non-exempt. And then employee handbooks versus employment contracts. And then the final one is advice on how to choose a lawyer.
Keep an eye on the L&C Clinic’s Youtube channel for new videos coming soon.