The Business Enterprise Law Clinic or BELAW is a program founded in the fall of 2011 by Michael Schlesinger to provide John Marshall students with a practical clinic experience which resembles that of an actual law firm. The clinic focuses its efforts in providing pro bono representation to individuals from low to moderate income communities in need of critical economic reinvestment. Under the supervision of practicing attorneys, students represent clients in the development and formation of their businesses. The work of the clinic not only provides students with invaluable experience in the practice of business and transactional law, but allows clients to self- actualize and become engines of economic change in their respective communities.
Since its inception, the BELAW has represented 181 individuals, helped to establish 157 growing businesses, 27 tax exempt not-for-profit organizations, and aided in the creation or retention of more than 243 jobs. In addition, clinic members have contributed more than $1,042,419 in pro bono legal services at a rate of $75 per hour. This does not include the time of the clinic’s director, Professor Schlesinger, or the time of supervising attorneys who have volunteered to oversee the student representation of the BELAW’s case load. John Marshall student Joe Stacho has been a member of the BELAW clinic since fall of 2015. He agreed to sit down with the Deceive Utterance and talk about his experience with the Clinic. Below is a transcript of that conversation, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Decisive Utterance: This is your second semester with the BELAW clinic. Why did you choose this clinic over others?
Joe Stacho: I’m interested in practicing corporate law and transactional law when I graduate. The BELAW gives me the opportunity to learn how to set up corporations and LLCs first hand. It is beneficial to have this type of knowledge. Everyone should have an idea of how to do this if they want to go into transactional law.
DU: You have to take some prerequisites before joining the clinic, like Income Tax and Corporations. Do you find that these prerequisites are helpful to you in the kinds of work you are doing with the BELAW?
JS: Yeah I do. Once you’ve had Corporations, you have an idea of how these things come together. The BELAW then lets you put this knowledge into practice. Because I had taken Income Tax and Corporations before I started with the BELAW, I didn’t feel like I was thrown in over my head. It would have been nice to have a thorough review of the concepts covered in those courses be- fore I started actually representing clients, but at least I didn’t feel like I was starting from scratch. I had a base of knowledge to work from, which was super helpful.
DU: What is your current project with the BELAW?
JS: I am working on a pretty big project for a tech start up. The client is trying to set up a for-profit subsidiary of a tax exempt non-profit organization.
DU: That sounds pretty complicated. Do you feel like you have a handle on it?
JS: Yeah, it’s a lot of work, but I’m staying on top of it. I don’t know what the work load is like with other clinics, but with the BELAW you get your own cases. You work on those cases with a partner and you see them through to the end. BELAW is not a middle man. We get stuff done. Sometimes with clinics you are dealing with projects that other people started and then didn’t finish. With BELAW you have your own assignments. You do a lot of re- search, drafting, and meet with the client often. In the end you have a final product that you can give to that client; it’s something they can actually use. At the end of the semester they have a finished contract or license for their business and you can just see how happy they are to having something like that in hand. It’s a great feeling. You’ve actually made a difference for that person.
DU: Do you feel like the BELAW prepares you to practice in the area of transactional law? JS: Yeah, I feel pretty confident that I could do business consulting or to set up a company for a company. I don’t know about something as complicated as a merger, but I feel like I could handle most areas of transactional law now. It’s definitely an experience you can talk about at interviews and employers will be interested to hear about the work you’ve done. Employers want to see that you can demonstrate practical knowledge and that you’ve had some experience in the kinds of work they’ll be hiring you to do. The BELAW has some advantages in this way.
DU: After having done some work with a non-profit business, do you think you’d like to work with this sort of business after you graduate?
JS: I don’t know if working with a non-profit is really for me, but I have learned a lot about the different communities there are in Chicago while working on this project. There are a lot of people who don’t have access to capital or other resources for starting a business in their neighborhoods. They could use the same services which a large business would typically go to a law firm for, but can’t afford the fees. Those are the people we work with. The BELAW shows you another side of the city and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more out of the experience than I expected.
If you are interested in learning more about the Business Enterprise Law Clinic, stop in and visit with Professor Schlesinger in room 206, located on floor 2M directly across from the elevators on the Plymouth Court side of the law school, or you can contact him at [email protected].
By Michael Reed