In With the New
A New Year Brings New Challenges at the IJ Clinic
By Beth Milnikel
On a university campus, fall is always accompanied by a vibrant sense of possibility. Students arrive ready to meet new people, engage in new debates, and encounter new ideas. The faculty is refreshed after a summer of scholarship and eager to challenge students with theories hot off the press. The floors are polished and the blackboards are clean.
At the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School, though, we feel an even greater sense of anticipation. Along with the rest of the campus community, IJ Clinic students are tackling new questions and cracking new books. But while working at the Clinic, they also learn firsthand how people can put new ideas into action. The inner-city entrepreneurs we represent are creating dynamic businesses where none existed before. They work miracles with a potent combination of gumption, creativity and hard work. In other words, newness is our business.
As the year begins, our veteran IJ Clinic students are enthusiastically reconnecting with clients they represented last year. For example, one of our clients is a young man starting a moving company. He’s terrific with customers and skilled with careful, efficient moves, but the legal paperwork required to get a license is out of his ken. The students have been outraged by the difficulty of getting information—not to mention a license—from the relevant Illinois agency, and they are fired up to get their client through to the other side of this grueling process.
Another client, Alex Morales (pictured above), has been achieving great success with his woodworking business, Smartmouth Design. He designs beautiful furnishings and interiors for commercial spaces. After years of operating informally as a subcontractor, he decided to take the next step and incorporate. With the help of the IJ Clinic this fall, he will adopt bylaws for his newly minted corporation.
Meanwhile, the six new students invited to work in the IJ Clinic—selected from the 138 students on the wait list—are busily studying for a prerequisite seminar, Entrepreneurship & The Law. The class of 32 students has already discussed the vital role of entrepreneurship in our economy and the difficulty entrepreneurs face in trying to defend their freedom to earn a living against special interest legislation. Throughout the term, they will learn to be advocates for entrepreneurs, both as attorneys and as citizens.
Taking the lead from our entrepreneurial clients, we also want to try new things this year to expand our reach. We cannot possibly represent all the hundreds of entrepreneurs who call us seeking help with baffling legal questions. But we hope to assist more this year than ever before.
In October, we hosted a business networking event to give inner-city entrepreneurs a chance to meet one another and share their experiences. With the help of our students, we are also planning to create pamphlets and guides to help entrepreneurs who are wrestling with legal problems here in Chicago and all over the country. Finally, we are actively spreading the word about the mission of the IJ Clinic and inspiring others to follow our lead in helping the scores of inner-city entrepreneurs who face overwhelming legal requirements.
The newness of the school year wears off by snowfall, but the IJ Clinic’s fresh approach to assisting entrepreneurs and the power of our clients’ American dreams never grow old.
Beth Milnikel directs the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School.