Law Students, Local Attorneys Aid Startups at Pro Bono Clinic

U of A School of Law Dean Cynthia Nance, center, stands with local attorneys and law students who volunteered their time at a clinic last month to help entrepreneurs navigate the legal environment while forming their companies.
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U of A School of Law Dean Cynthia Nance, center, stands with local attorneys and law students who volunteered their time at a clinic last month to help entrepreneurs navigate the legal environment while forming their companies.

Arkansas entrepreneurs received free legal aid from more than 45 volunteer attorneys and U of A law students at a pro bono clinic last month hosted by the U of A School of Law and the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

More than 20 startups were accepted for the event, and students were paired with local attorneys to assist with company formation, including establishing organizational structure and documentation.

Abbey Blanford, a third-year law student, praised the clinic for helping expand her understanding of how to organize a company based on client objectives. She said founders wanted to know about different legal structures for a business and the role organizational documents will have in day-to-day operations.

Blandford added that the clinic "emphasized the importance of community."

"Seeing local professionals and students volunteer their time on a weekend to serve the entrepreneurs in our area was really moving," she said.

Craig Petitte, managing partner with NWA Public Market, met with students and lawyers from Kutak Rock.

"We got a lot out of our legal team ... all the deliverables were delivered as promised," Petitte said.

NWA Public Market is a project focused on providing opportunities for startups in the food service industry, Petitte said. Currently envisioned for Rogers, the market would provide kitchen space and storage, but also offer training for startups marketing their products. Plans include incorporating amenities like a dog park and pickleball courts for shoppers at the market as well.

Some founders were curious about a "high-level view" of their next steps, and conversations began with learning about their products before discussing any legal steps they had already taken, according to law student Chloe Nelson. 

"The clinic was extremely useful," Nelson said. "I got to see a career path in action that I'm extremely interested in. I learned so much from my supervising attorney about professionalism and how first conversations with potential clients would go."

Law school and OEI officials hope the one-day clinic serves as a springboard for a permanent program jointly offered by both entities.

Cost is the glaring issue halting entrepreneurs from obtaining legal counsel, according to Rachel Sullivant, the associate director for the McMillon Innovation Studio, a 2022 U of A School of Law graduate and co-organizer behind the clinic.

Debby Winters, an attorney and founder of Cascade Law Group who volunteered at the clinic, concurred. "Many of the clients need the help of pro bono. A clinic like this at the law school might be something to look into," Winters said. "There is a non-profit clinic, but an additional clinic for those needing help with their for-profit companies might be good for the community and for students."

About the School of Law: The law school offers a competitive J.D. as well as an advanced LL.M. program, which are taught by nationally recognized faculty. The school offers unique opportunities for students to participate in pro bono work, externships, live client clinics, competitions, and food and agriculture initiatives. The school strives to identify, discuss, and challenge issues of race, color, ethnicity, and the impact(s) they have on students, faculty, and staff members in an effort to achieve a diverse, inclusive, and equitable community. From admitting the Six Pioneers who were the first African American students to attend law school in the South without a court order to graduating governors, judges, prosecutors, and faculty who went on to become President of the United States and Secretary of State, the law school has a rich history and culture. Follow us at @uarklaw.

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio, Startup Village, and Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.

Contacts

Brandon Howard, communications and social media specialist
Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
479-418-4803, bjhoward@uark.edu

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