Students in Marquette’s Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic (LEC) have successfully completed their Neighborhood Entrepreneur Project, aimed at providing free legal support to low and moderate-income microentrepreneurs in Wisconsin.
The LEC launched in 2015 and has provided free legal services to more than 300 local entrepreneurs. To complete their Neighborhood Entrepreneur Project, the LEC received a $35,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) last March. The project involves the launch of a website that houses important legal forms and information and a referral service to connect entrepreneurs with volunteer business attorneys outside the LEC, so there is always someone to help, depending on the level of demand.
“The law is absolutely a barrier (for small businesses) because it can be confusing and intimidating. There’s a lot of incorrect advice and poor documents online,” said Nathan Hammons, clinical associate professor and director of Marquette’s Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic.
Hammons was initially inspired to launch the BUILD website because there really wasn’t a source for common legal forms and documents specific to business owners in Wisconsin. He said many people may use other online resources such as LegalZoom, that charge for their services and don’t have information tailored to Wisconsin businesses. The BUILD site officially launched this January, with LEC students helping build all the content available for entrepreneurs.
“Many online service providers try to upsell entrepreneurs, so entrepreneurs might get a legal form that doesn’t quite fit or legal services they don’t need,” Hammons said.
Law students taking part in the LEC will continue to offer legal advice to microentrepreneurs (those who have five or fewer employees) as part of the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Project. The LEC provides the only dedicated pro bono legal support for entrepreneurs in the Milwaukee area. Students help business owners do everything from protecting intellectual property to hiring employees and figuring out financing.
During the 2020-21 academic year, a dozen LEC students helped 87 entrepreneurs. Of those business owners, 51% were minority entrepreneurs and 45% were women. The LEC has garnered support from several other organizations including BizStarts, gener8tor, Startup Milwaukee and Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp.
“Our community and businesses really benefit from free and open sharing of information and collaboration,” Hammons said. “That’s a motivating force behind this, to help grow a more robust and sharing entrepreneurial community.”