Tag Archives | small business

Small Business Owners – How to Get Access to Expert Advice

[Originally posted on Dog Trainer’s Umbrella, Jan 4, 2021]

 

Vanessa O'Connor, Transactional Law Clinics of Harvard Law School

by | Jan 4, 2021

This fourth interview in our series is a special treat: our interviewee is Vanessa O’Connor, and attorney with the Harvard Law School Transactional Law Clinic. TLC is an amazing resource for small business owners who can’t afford the legal advice they need to build a strong business. Vanessa is also a smart, articulate speaker who will fire you up.

If you have not heard the story behind these interviews, here it is again:

As small business owners, we are often isolated from our peer group of other business owners.  This feeling of isolation and figuring it out on our own was exacerbated in 2020 by the effects of the pandemic.  While Facebook groups like “DTU: Marketing & Running an R+ Dog Business” can help to provide a sense of community, I was inspired this summer to reach out to other small business owners and talk to them about their industries and their stories, to see what I could learn and pass on to you. I recorded our conversations and want to share them with you here.  I had a lot of fun asking questions, finding similarities and hearing about lessons learned. Be forewarned: the recordings are unedited and low tech, more for listening to than looking at, but you may learn from the shared experiences.

Have you found any free resources that have helped you to build your business?  Is there a law school clinic in your state?  I’m always keeping my ears open for these kinds of resources so I can share them with the dog training community, so let me know.

Democracy Brewing

[Originally published by Harvard Law Today, September 17, 2019]

 

Last summer, with the help of Harvard Law School’s Transactional Law Clinics (TLC), Democracy Brewing became the first brewery in Massachusetts to launch as a worker-owned owned business. TLC, a clinical program of Harvard Law School which provides legal assistance to small businesses and entrepreneurs, helped the downtown Boston brewery incorporate, including setting up a direct public offering to raise the initial capital needed to start the business. Democracy Brewing Co-founders James Razsa and Jason Taggart; Joe Hedal, Deputy Director of HLS’ Transactional Law Clinics; and Hillary Baker-Jennings ’16, one of several TLC clinic students who advised the fledgling company, reflect on the process of getting Democracy Brewing from an ambitious idea to a thriving business.

 

Experiential and Essential Clinical Education at HLS: Four experiences

[Orignally published on June 26th, 2018 by Harvard Law Today]

By ELAINE MCARDLE, June 26, 2018

Empowering Small Businesses to Stay in the Neighborhood

As Boston real estate prices soar and gentrification in lower-income places like Dorchester and Jamaica Plain continues apace, residential tenants aren’t the only ones losing their homes. Small businesses that serve neighborhoods and give them their distinct character have far fewer legal protections and are being evicted or forced out by rising costs.

Glancy and Trujillo stand in a park area in the neighborhood they worked in

Credit: Dana SmithAlexandra Glancy ’19 and Michael Trujillo ’18 teamed up through the Community Enterprise Project at the Transactional Law Clinics to help small-business owners facing gentrification. They produced the “Commercial Leases 101” legal toolkit, which offers a wealth of resources for better legal protection.

The Community Enterprise Project at HLS’s Transactional Law Clinics helps these communities fight back with a new “Commercial Leases 101” legal toolkit, created by two students to help business owners understand the importance of having a lease and how to negotiate better terms.

I was able to get experience with movement lawyering and bigger-picture legal advocacy.

Last fall, Michael Trujillo ’18 and Alexandra Glancy ’19, with the guidance of Clinical Instructor Carlos Teuscher, teamed up to assist small businesses facing gentrification. First, the duo reached out to neighborhood and community organizations that are fighting to preserve their communities, including Bowdoin Geneva Main Streets, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. They canvassed small businesses to determine what would be most helpful before putting together the annotated toolkit, which offers a wealth of resources for better legal protections. Trujillo, who plans a career in social movement lawyering, says, “We are hoping this toolkit empowers small-business owners to have the legal knowledge to understand what a good lease looks like and ask for better arrangements with their landlords.” They presented the toolkit to local business and community groups and held office hours to help small-business owners negotiate more favorable leases.

CEP also shared the toolkit with the city of Boston, and Teuscher plans to have other clinical students continue to work with community partners to push for more statutory protections for commercial tenants. But the toolkit could have a greater reach than just Boston, he says. Toolkits produced in the past by CEP students have had a national impact, including an immigrant entrepreneur toolkit that clinics across the U.S. are using as a model. While landlord-tenant law is state-specific, Teuscher hopes the commercial lease toolkit’s widely applicable resources will allow it to have a similar impact.

Meanwhile, the educational experience for students is exceptional, Trujillo and Glancy say. “I learned so much, from interacting with and interviewing clients to thinking about innovative ways to use legal tools—for example, things you can put in a lease that aren’t in typical leases but can increase the tenant’s power,” says Glancy, who knew about TLC before coming to HLS and was drawn to the school in part because of it.

Clinical Professor Brian Price is director of the Transactional Law Clinics, which offer students work in a wide range of areas from business formation to taxation, real estate and employment matters. “Our approach from day one is that students will be taking ownership of the cases, and that they not see themselves as assisting their supervising attorney but rather as the person who is leading the case with the guidance of the supervising attorney,” Price says.

With CEP projects like the toolkit, he adds, there are leadership lessons. “Students learn to work in a team … and they see how lawyers—particularly transactional lawyers—can help lead not by dominating an issue but working alongside and collaboratively with community people.”

Making Change: A Harvard Law School clinic helps the homeless earn a living (video)

[Originall published by Harvard Law Today on April 19, 2018]

 

“What counts as ‘income’ for taxes?” “Will paying taxes affect the public assistance I receive?” “Will I lose my veterans disability benefits if I make too much money?” “Why should I use a bank?”

Those are some of the questions street vendors of Greater Boston’s Spare Change News grapple with. A recently published guide, “Two Cents for Spare Change News: A Legal Resource for Spare Change News Vendors,” developed by Harvard Law students, aims to provide answers.

Spare Change News, the oldest street publication in the country, provides its vendors, many of whom are either currently or formerly homeless, with the resources needed to run a business. Vendors operate as sole proprietors, buying as many papers as they want for 50 cents per copy and then keeping what they earn. While Spare Change’s mission is to show by example that, “with the proper resources, empowerment, opportunities and encouragement, homeless and low-income people are capable of creating change in society for themselves,” for vendors, selling newspapers can be an inherently unstable business for a number of reasons.

Katherine Bennett, executive director of the Homeless Empowerment Project, the publisher of Spare Change News, said vendors face complex issues. They have many legal questions, including understanding their rights and responsibilities as vendors, and they don’t have many resources. “I can’t explain how hard it is when you see these vendors who are really trying to improve their lives to see them feel so afraid that if they make one mistake they’re going to be homeless again or some terrible consequence is going to happen,” she said.

In the spring of 2017, Antoine Southern and Anne Rosenblum, then 3Ls in Harvard Law School’s Community Enterprise Project (CEP) of the Transactional Law Clinics, spearheaded a new partnership between the clinic and Spare Change to help vendors better understand their legal obligations as business owners. CEP combines direct client representation with community-based projects in which students work alongside community organizations on persistent legal problems over the course of a semester.

“Meeting with vendors, we were able to gain a sense of what they really needed, and began to develop a guide that would help with legal issues such as their taxes and personal banking and benefits,” said Southern.

According to Harvard Law School Clinical Professor Brian Price, director of the Transactional Law Clinics, working in the clinics is a great opportunity for law students to be able to learn, hands-on, how to serve the community, and to help community businesses and nonprofit organizations. Previous CEP efforts have included producing a legal guidebook for immigrant entrepreneurs, filing for an abated tax bill for low-income buyers of a new condominium, and creating legal toolkits for condominium associations and food trucks.

“We teach the same things that students will wind up doing at the firm or organization that they go to after graduating. After a 12-week semester, students feel like they’re equipped to handle what comes next,” Price said. “I’m proud of that.”

The core part of the Spare Change project involved collecting and sharing information regarding legal issues inherent in running a small business. The guide includes information on what it means to be the sole proprietor of a small business, tax obligations and how to meet them, how public benefits might be impacted by small business ownership and tips on banking services. The guide also includes resources for nonbusiness-related concerns, such as housing discrimination and mental health.

spare change co-founder with CEP students

In the spring of 2017, then-3Ls Antoine Southern (left) and Anne Rosenblum (pictured with Spare Change co-founder James Shearer) spearheaded a partnership with Spare Change News, the oldest street publication in the country, to provide guidance and answers to commonly-asked questions the street vendors have about their work with the organization.

“We were aware of the fact that vendors also face a lot of issues outside of their work with Spare Change News, so part of the resources that we included in the guide are sort of a reference to other service providers and organizations in the Boston,  Cambridge area that they might be able to turn to for help with different issues,” said Rosenblum.

Cross-collaboration between Harvard Law School clinics is an important part of the success of individual projects. With 30 clinics in a remarkably wide range of fields of law and policy, and more than 1,000 students enrolled in clinics each year, Harvard Law School is one of the largest providers of free legal services in New England. In addition to individual case representation,  students often need to take a more holistic approach to address their clients’ needs. In the case of the CEP’s Spare Change project, students sought input from several other Harvard Law School clinics to address vendors’ questions about criminal records, disability rights and housing discrimination.

“Part of our job in the Community Enterprise Project is to reach out to the different clinics that we have at the law school in order to inform the work that we do,” said Amanda Kool, a former clinical instructor in the Transactional Law Clinic. “I think we’re really lucky in the Transactional Law Clinics to have that umbrella.”

“The experiences that I’ve had have been invaluable and have given me an opportunity to develop skills and put them to use in ways that are just not available through academic classes,” said Rosenblum. “They’ve also just made my life richer and more enjoyable, a welcome break from the classroom and departure from the Harvard bubble.”

TLC Assists Her Campus Media with Trademarks

hercampusHLS student, Katy Yang ’12, represented Her Campus® Media, the #1 online magazine for college women, in trademark work leading to federal registration of several important marks for the rapidly growing online start-up.  Her Campus has recently obtained a registered trademark for the mark “collegiette”® and in 2011 also obtained federal registrations for its “Her Campus”® name and logo.    Her Campus was founded in September 2009 by three Harvard College students.  The start-up was a winner of Harvard’s business plan competition, the i3 Innovation Challenge, in March 2009, and also among the winners of last year’s MassChallenge start-up competition.    Her Campus now claims a readership at of over a half million monthly at over 200 colleges and describes itself as “a collegiette’s guide to life” (a “collegiette” is the start-up’s term for a Her Campus reader).

While working in the Transactional Law Clinics, Katy worked with entrepreneurial clients on several for profit and non-profit matters, including the work with Her Campus.   The experience provided her with the opportunity to develop practice skills and experience in new substantive areas, all the time working with real clients.   Katy commented on representing Her Campus, “The uniqueness of working with a student start-up and the opportunity to learn a new area of law while helping a client made this work especially meaningful. ”   Katy’s work was supervised by Joe Hedal, an attorney and clinical instructor at TLC.