In 2006, the University of Washington (UW) School of Law launched the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic (ELC). The ELC is a joint program of the School of Law's Clinical Program and UW Foster School of Business. The ELC assembles and supports teams comprised of law and MBA students and pro bono attorneys to provide legal and business planning “audits,” transactional services, and counseling to: low-income microenterprises; low- to middle-income tech entrepreneurs; UW technology spin-offs; and nonprofit/social entrepreneurs and social services.
The ELC began with four client teams, each consisting of three law students (each specializing in a particular area of law), and one MBA (providing a general business perspective), serving two to three clients per academic quarter, and an aggregate of 12-24 clients each year. By 2009, the number of teams had increased to seven, each consisting of one to three law students (each specializing in a particular area of the law) and one or two MBA students (providing different MBA skill sets), serving one or two clients per academic quarter, for a total of three to six clients per year per team, and an aggregate of 20-40 clients each year.
The ELC had three goals:
Goal 1: Increase the number of entrepreneurial ventures started and professionally reviewed, administered, and executed for regional economic development.
Goal 2: Provide real-life education to UW law and business students in counseling and transactional law and business planning.
Goal 3: Provide meaningful pro bono opportunities for transactional attorneys in the areas of corporate/securities law, intellectual property, and tax, and instill in law and business students a commitment to public service and pro bono representation.
- Between 2006 and 2010, the ELC served 94 clients ranging from technology ventures to microenterprises
- 85%-97% of the ELC’s clients started their own businesses or sought funding and 62% of the ELC’s initial clients (23 out of 37 from 2006-2008) are still in business.
- The ELC had 13-15 students in the first year it was offered and grew each year to 19 law and 9 business students in Spring 2010.
- At the start of the clinic, 11 pro bono attorneys participated. By 2009-2010 that number had nearly doubled to 21. Over the past four years, the pro bono attorneys contributed 350-600 hours of pro bono legal services per year.
Key Lesson Learned: The ELC model is scalable based upon student commitment.
In theory, the ELC model is scalable to any number of students that may wish to participate. Because UW has a large pool of highly qualified local supervising attorneys, the only constraint originally appeared to be the number of students available. However, after fielding seven teams for each of the past two years (2008-2009 and 2009-2010), and expanding the range of services provided, UW reached the current upper limit of student who are willing and able to make the necessary commitment to the ELC and its clients. This commitment includes participating in the ELC for a full academic year and serving up to six clients.
Key Lesson Learned: The ELC is able to provide a wide range of services to a broad spectrum of clients.
The ELC offered core services of legal and business audit analysis and basic business formation, transactions, and licensing/registration. Most services have been highly successful but others, such as freedom to operate analyses for the UW Center for Commercialization, were found to be better performed by students serving as externs in that office. Additionally, the ELC has expanded its types of clients during the term of this grant. Originally, it served only microenterprises and pre-funded tech start-ups. Offerings expanded to serving nonprofits/social entrepreneurship ventures and the UW tech transfer community for university technology spin-offs.