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Making your business their business

Tuesday, Aug 16, 2011

Law students counsel small businesses for clinic

-by Jill Carmack

After winning the USC Marshall School’s New Venture Seed Competition, in which entrepreneurial students compete to offer the most innovative business plan, David Radcliff was awarded a stipend to support his business endeavors.

 Sean Ricks '13, Jordan Davisson '13 and
 Courtney Burten '12

But there was just one problem.

“We couldn’t use our award money until we started a business, and we couldn’t start a business without money,” Radcliff said.

He and his business partner, Natalia Bogolasky, had come up with the idea to start a mobile phone application that works to provide ratings and reviews of various locations for disabled individuals.

“I’ve suffered from cerebral palsy all of my life, and there wasn’t a lot of info. online or in travel books geared towards helping people with various disabilities.  I wanted to find a way to make accessing this information convenient,” Radcliff said.

That’s where USC Law’s Small Business Clinic came in. Directed by Prof. Michael Chasalow and staffed by law students throughout the year, the clinic was able to help turn Radcliff’s dreams into a reality by establishing his company, NimbleTrek, LLC.

“If not for the help that they gave, the process would have been longer and much more confusing. They helped us save time and money and made it so there was always someone to answer questions,” said Radcliff.

For businesses seeking free legal services and for USC law students seeking once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunities, the Small Business Clinic provides a rewarding experience.

The clinic, staffed this summer by three law students, offers support and legal guidance to entrepreneurs at various stages of business development. When a client is looking to start a business, the Small Business Clinic’s law students are responsible for getting the company off the ground by forming the entity and cutting through red tape. The client schedules an intake interview with one of the students, who assesses the client’s needs and discusses the legal services that will be required.

Some companies that come to the clinic have been operating for a while but need help to properly address legal issues that had been overlooked during the company’s formation. Such help includes student-prepared agreements that provide added legal protection for the company.  Other businesses come to the clinic because they want to dissolve their companies and need guidance doing so.

Prof. Michael Chasalow
 Prof. Michael Chasalow

The clinic also has a separate category of nonprofit clients. The students usually take on at least one nonprofit matter, during their time with the clinic. Nonprofit clients involve more paperwork than the typical small business and require students to do everything from forming nonprofits to preparing tax filings for the organization to obtain “non-profit” status.

“We work with a variety of companies and help them to save anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 in legal fees,” said Professor Chasalow.

The Small Business Clinic not only benefits its clients, but also offers students the opportunity to gain first-hand experience with corporate transactional work. After working with litigators, Jordan Davisson ’13 wanted to learn more about what transactional lawyers do.

“Most of the other clinics focus on litigation, but because we are a little smaller, we get to go in depth to better understand transactional legal work,” Davisson said. “Professor Chasalow is really involved and makes sure we know exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it.”

All the students agree that Professor Chasalow makes the program a valued experience.

“The biggest thing to take away has been my one-on-one time with a professor who has so much knowledge on the topic,” said Sean Ricks ’13.

Courtney Burten ’12 got involved in the Small Business Clinic for her final year of law school because she thought it would be the ideal experience to prepare her for a career in corporate and bankruptcy law after graduation. Young lawyers at firms generally do not work independently with clients, but the Small Business Clinic allows students to interact with clients directly.

“One of the greatest things you gain is having your own clients and knowing that you’re providing them a service that they can’t get anywhere else for free, and without which, some of them might not have taken that step to start a business,” she said.

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