June 10, 2024

Spotlight on the Small Business Legal Clinic: Empowering Entrepreneurs in Rural Oregon

The Small Business Legal Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School offers vital business legal support for small business owners and entrepreneurs throughout Oregon, including in rural areas where low-cost/no-cost legal services are not available.

The Small Business Legal Clinic (SBLC) at Lewis & Clark Law School stands out for its practical engagement with Oregon business communities supporting low-income small business owners and entrepreneurs in crucial legal matters. For the last few years, SBLC has been able to extend their outreach to rural areas of Oregon.

The SBLC reduces legal barriers for individuals who have been historically disenfranchised, such as people of color, women, and immigrants. This includes drafting and reviewing contracts, advising on employment issues, registering intellectual property, and helping form for-profit and nonprofit entities. The clinic’s scope reflects a commitment to providing essential business legal services to those who might otherwise struggle to afford them.

A notable example of SBLC’s impactful work in rural areas is Brian Dasso’s project with manufactured dwelling park cooperatives. A Staff Attorney with the clinic, Dasso collaborates with Community and Shelter Assistance Corp (CASA), an Oregon nonprofit specializing in helping residents of manufactured dwelling parks organize into cooperatives to purchase the parks they reside in. When asked about this work, he shared “The best part of this work is helping residents secure a better and more affordable living arrangement. The parks I have worked with have often avoided raising rents for years, resulting in significantly lower space rents than non-resident-owned parks.”

Dasso provides the legal support for owners of mobile homes to band together as cooperatives and acquire the land their home occupies. Dasso assists new cooperatives in filing their Articles of Organization and adopting their governing documents, such as bylaws, community rules, and space leases. He also manages the legal aspects of purchasing the parks, ensuring that residents secure more affordable and stable living arrangements. Once purchased, these parks provide residents the security of not worrying about the park being sold or redeveloped, with stabilized space rents and self-governance. Family Redwood Park Cooperative, formed in 2023, is one such example, along with cooperatives in cities like Newport, Grants Pass, and Cottage Grove.

In addition to this vital work in rural Oregon, the SBLC also provides services to individual entrepreneurs, as illustrated by Elise Wahl’s experience. Wahl, the creative force behind Timberdoodle Studio, faced a contractual dilemma that threatened the stability of her business, so she turned to the SBLC for assistance.

“[SBLC Law student] Kenji Blum’ 25 was amazing; I have found emotional security in addition to actual legal security,” Wahl reflects on her experience. The clinic’s support transcended mere legal advice; it offered Wahl a foundation of confidence and understanding that reshaped her approach to business agreements.

“I am a one-woman team, running my own small business,” Wahl explains, underscoring the isolation felt by many in her position. “Now, with the help from the clinic, I am more confident with sticking with my proposals and my contracts.” The assistance she received has been instrumental in maintaining her business’s integrity and processes, allowing her to stand firm and ask for what she needs without compromise.

Elise Wahl’s journey with the SBLC illustrates the impact that accessible legal support can have on small businesses and entrepreneurs, especially those who are in rural areas with few legal resources. Through its work, the SBLC addresses immediate legal challenges and empowers business owners like Wahl with the knowledge and confidence to safeguard their interests and thrive in a competitive landscape. Her advice to other small business owners tackling legal challenges? “Get in touch with the SBLC. Seriously, just do it.”

For potential law students, the SBLC represents a unique opportunity to engage deeply with the legal aspects of entrepreneurship and small business management. Participation in the clinic provides a chance to make a real difference in local business owners’ lives and offers a practical learning experience that prepares students for their future careers.

Through its support for the community and innovative educational approach, the SBLC embodies the law school’s commitment to service, learning, and professional development. As the clinic continues to grow and evolve, it remains a vital resource for both law students and the small business community.