The Peter A. Allard School of Law has launched the pilot Business Law Clinic program. The clinic pairs law students — who earn credit for participating — with members of the business community who have limited access to legal services.
This is not the first free legal advice program at the law school. Since 1969, the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) has been providing free legal advice and representation for low-income individuals throughout the Lower Mainland.
This new initiative, however, deals specifically with business-related legal problems. According to Catherine Chow, one of the clinic’s two supervisors, the program’s focus is twofold — to provide legal services to business people in need and to create an experiential learning environment for law students.
The program is structured around the six participating students providing hands-on legal aid to clients. The program also includes a seminar component, allowing each student to present and discuss the different legal issues they are encountering.
“We’re not doing litigation matters,” said Chow. “Instead of the courtroom education, I call it the boardroom education — learning how to deal with business clients in a boardroom context.”
The clinic is geared towards emerging businesses and entrepreneurs. Working closely with their supervisors, students provide assistance with such issues as incorporation and the development of shareholder agreements.
“Sometimes the question comes to mind, ‘Why do businesses need free legal advice? They’re entrepreneurial, they’re out to make money. Why would we, as a university ... provide free clinics?’” said Chow. “What you have to recognize is that these clinics actually serve a desperate need to provide business legal services to those who couldn’t otherwise afford to access them.”
According to Garth Jones, a participating law student, there is a misguided notion that all the program’s clients are looking to launch for-profit ventures. Some of the clinic’s clients, for example, are individuals aiming to establish non-profits who do not have the resources to go about receiving professional counsel.
“[One of the program’s clients] has had this non-profit idea since he was 16 years old,” said Chow. “He’s got a concrete idea of what he wants to do and he needs help taking the steps towards getting incorporated.”
Jones found the program highly beneficial by allowing him to practically apply what he has learned in the classroom. The clinic has received such a warm reception that Chow is optimistic about its continuation next year.
“I can’t turn left or right without a lawyer or member of the business community wanting to help out in some way,” said Chow. “We’re getting a huge sense that the under serviced target we’re looking at has been so traditionally underserved that this need is only going to grow.”