Milwaukee-area startups with a range of product and service offerings – from a composting business on wheels to a wearable technology company – have been getting an extra hand when it comes to legal advice from a group of Marquette University Law School students dedicated to practice their craft in a real-life setting while serving local businesses.
Since its soft launch in the spring of 2015, Marquette University Law School’s Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic (LEC) has been taking on area clients who are in the initial stages of starting their businesses and in need of qualified legal advice. The clinic facilitates a symbiotic relationship between Marquette law students in their final year of school and area startups looking to get off the ground by allowing students to practice law as they would in the field while providing free services.
Professor Nathaniel Hammons, the clinic’s director, said the program helps to bridge the gap between students’ classwork and the practice of law, especially for those planning to go into business law after graduation.
“There’s a growing startup scene in the Milwaukee area so…there’s a need for it in the community, and in legal education, there is a push for more practical training and especially for transactional legal skills,” he said. “For many of our students it’s the first time they’ve worked with a live client and there are a lot of benefits to that. They gain hands-on skills.”
With the overall goal of helping to improve the economy and quality of life in southeastern Wisconsin, the LEC coaches clients on legal issues in many areas, including business entity selection and formation, corporate governance, funding and financing, business contracts, employment, business licenses and permits, trademark, copyright and commercial leases.
“Startups have so many issues to address, and we help them figure out what their core legal needs and risks are and then address those in order of importance,” Hammons said.
Generally, the LEC represents clients until their major formation-stage issues have been addressed, a time period that can be as short as several weeks or as long as a year. The clinic does not handle litigation, however, instead referring those in need of such services to attorneys outside the program.
Although students earn academic credit for their work in the clinic, Hammons said the organization, which is funded entirely by alumni donations made to the Law School’s Annual Fund, operates as any professional law firm would in the real world.
Hammons said his favorite part of leading the clinic is that it is mutually beneficial and that both parties are highly engaged and dedicated to their work, adding that he looks forward to the clinic’s continued success in the future.
“The students and the clients are passionate about what they’re doing, and it’s great to be providing a meaningful service to both the Law School and the community,” he explained.