By Kathleen Gallagher
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In a move that could bolster the region’s innovation efforts, Marquette University is launching a clinic that will provide free legal services to start-ups and entrepreneurs.
The first such clinic in the area, it will provide services to aspiring companies ranging from high-tech start-ups to mom-and-pop grocery stores, said Nathan Hammons, a full-time faculty member and the clinic’s director.
Marquette’s Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic supports the vision for entrepreneurship and innovation that Michael Lovell, the school’s recently installed president, has laid out for the campus community. But it also will fill a gap in the region’s emerging start-up scene, observers said.
“Milwaukee has a young but growing start-up community, and the more support for that community that’s out there, the better,” said John McDonald, a partner at Godfrey & Kahn who works with start-up companies.
From organizational documents to ownership and intellectual property concerns, company founders are often faced with a rash of legal needs for which they have no cash, McDonald said.
“If you don’t have agreements with founders or you don’t get good legal advice when you’re raising money, you can be screwed as a company,” said Matt Cordio, executive director of Startup Milwaukee, which provides resources for local entrepreneurs.
The Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic will be staffed by Marquette law students, who will earn academic credits and work under Hammons’ supervision.
Hammons, who had been working as a start-up lawyer in Milwaukee and teaching classes at Marquette, approached Matthew Parlow, the law school’s associate dean for academic affairs, about launching a clinic in 2013.
“It started from my work in private practice, where there were so many great clients who just could not afford good legal services,” Hammons said.
As they discussed the idea, Parlow said he got excited.
“Our students will get good training and we’ll be helping to provide basic transactional legal services to entrepreneurs who were falling through the cracks,” Parlow said.
Before arriving in Milwaukee in 2011, Hammons built an extensive legal résumé that includes representing Bayer, Disney, General Electric and other big clients in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin LLP, serving as associate general counsel for DePaul University and acting as appellate court attorney for the New York Supreme Court.
The Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic will open in January in a limited capacity and be fully operational by fall 2015, Parlow said. The clinic is being funded by donations to the law school’s annual fund.
It is an important piece in Marquette’s efforts to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in the region to boost the economy and create jobs, said Lovell.
There are more than 150 clinics connected to law schools around the country that provide assistance to start-ups and entrepreneurs, according to a list maintained by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo. The type of work performed by these clinics varies considerably.
Many deal primarily with formation and other so-called transactional work while others help with patent protection, technology commercialization and other more specific areas, Kauffman said.
A growing number of law school clinics for entrepreneurs have formed during the last decade, said Anne Smith, co-founder and co-director of the Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Smith’s clinic served 285 clients last year, including some from Milwaukee, and has a waiting list. So she sees an “untapped need” that the Marquette clinic has potential to fill.
“Entrepreneurship is a lot about having critical mass and making it easy for people to access resources,” Smith said. “We contribute to the entrepreneurial environment in Madison as Nathan will in Milwaukee.”
Milwaukee’s entrepreneurial community is not as large as its counterpart in Madison, but participants say it has been growing.
“The clinic itself is an indication the community is growing,” McDonald said. “And I see it every day, there’s a lot of interest in entrepreneurship in the area.”
Free legal help
Marquette University’s law school students provided more than 10,000 hours of free legal services last year, school officials said. Programs through which that work was delivered include:
–Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics, where law students and licensed attorneys collaborate to help people with legal problems involving civil issues at multiple sites in the Milwaukee area.
–The Milwaukee Justice Center, inside the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The Justice Center is a collaborative project between Marquette, the Milwaukee Bar Association and Milwaukee County Mobile Legal Clinic. The Justice Center recently added a Mobile Legal Clinic that travels around the city.