Entrepreneurship at the IJ Clinic

June 1, 2004

June 2004

Entrepreneurship at the IJ Clinic:

A Dream with Passion and Drive Makes Things Happen

IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship client Shawna Spencer inspires customers with her shoe store and foot spa and IJ Clinic participants with her spirit.

By Beth Milnikel

“It’s the drive; it’s the excitement; it’s the entrepreneurship.” This is how Shawna Spencer, a client of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School, recently explained her ongoing fight to stay in business in spite of all obstacles. It’s also a good explanation for why we here at the IJ Clinic keep fighting for our clients.

Shawna owns a small shoe store and foot spa on Chicago’s North Side. The boutique has bright blue walls, leopard print upholstery, and unique Italian shoes, but Shawna’s customer service is what makes it stand out. The last time I visited her shop with several law students, Shawna described to us her dreams for the expansion of her business and asked us to advise her on various legal issues associated with that growth. She assured us, however, that, regardless of her prominence, she would always want to keep her office adjacent to her shop, so she could continue to greet customers with her customary embrace.

As our meeting wound down, and the students and I started to gather our notes and bags, Shawna turned to one of the students who had been quietly observing the meeting. “You’re always so quiet; what are you thinking?” she asked. The student responded that she admired Shawna’s passion for her work and could only hope to be so committed to her career. “I’m envious of you really,” she confided.

Shawna proceeded to turn the tables and give counsel to her counsel. What really matters, in the shoe business or the law business, she explained, is that you’re helping people. She promised that as long as our students find a way to continue helping their clients, as they’ve helped her, they will be passionate about their work.

Her advice hit home for me, as well. Since I joined the Institute for Justice team in October, I have a renewed passion for practicing law. It is a marvelous experience to work one-on-one with the entrepreneurs served by the IJ Clinic. Their courage and creativity never fail to inspire me. Their dreams are powerful, and it is a privilege to help with the legal aspects of making those dreams come true, which can often be overwhelming for small business owners.

The IJ Clinic also provides a wonderful educational opportunity for up-and-coming lawyers. The law students who attended the recent meeting with Shawna, for example, have gained experience with drafting contracts and researching regulations with a client-centered approach. It is my good fortune to help develop their practical skills in those areas, but also to expose these students to the contagious energy and passion that fuel genuine entrepreneurship. With these experiences—and Shawna’s advice—I know that our students will emerge as skillful and passionate advocates for entrepreneurs around the country. And I am thrilled to be a part of that process.

Beth Milnikel is the associate director of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School.

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