Holding Out Hope (and Waiting on Hold) for IJ Clinic Clients

February 1, 2022

To my surprise, one of my first assignments as a summer clerk at the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School was assisting a client with parking tickets.

The client, Yohance Lacour, designs and makes stylish leather shoes and handbags. But when the IJ Clinic worked with him to apply for his business license with the city of Chicago, the city emailed saying the license wouldn’t be issued until Yohance satisfied outstanding debts with the city, attaching several cryptic notices of decades-old debts. Yohance was mystified. 

I began calling the city. The hold music became the background music of my workdays. Different operators provided different information and followed different rules. Eventually, after a month of investigation, the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. The city had impounded a vehicle registered to Yohance. There was no record of what happened to the vehicle, but it was likely either sold or scrapped, and the city wanted Yohance to pay fines before starting his business.

Straightening things out took still more months of advocacy with the city, explaining that Yohance never received any notice of the tickets, the booting, towing, or eventual disposal of the vehicle. When the vehicle was impounded, he was in prison (where he first learned leather work, in fact). 

Finally, we prevailed, and the city dismissed most of Yohance’s debt. This relief will enable him to obtain his business license and invest his money in his business. It was also a stark illustration of the barriers and burdens to opportunity for previously incarcerated entrepreneurs like Yohance. 

So what did I do last summer? I listened to a lot of hold music. I helped IJ fight the good fight to change the convoluted vehicle impound system in Chicago. I learned that it is far too common for cities to squeeze entrepreneurs like Yohance for old fines and fees as a condition of starting a business. Most importantly, I learned how to advocate the IJ Way, developing skills, experience, and tenacity that will help me continue to fight for Yohance and others trying for a fresh start.

Palmer Gunderson is a law student working with the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School. 

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