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Small Business & Nonprofit Law Clinic has a New Home Office and an Expanded Horizon

Christopher Muzzo

The Salmon P. Chase College of Law Small Business & Nonprofit Law Clinic has gone to where most of its clients are, and is reaching out to where others might be.

The clinic, in which students handle largely transactional matters for clients with limited resources, this summer moved from the Northern Kentucky University campus, in Highland Heights, to the Collaborative for Economic Development space in downtown Covington. It also launched into its part of a grant to aid economic development in rural areas of Northern Kentucky and began exploration of ways to extend its reach throughout the commonwealth.

The physical move to the Collaborative for Economic Development, a partnership of NKU, the city of Covington and others, puts the clinic under the same roof as other services for entrepreneurs and small business owners needing help in turning their ideas into viable products or services.

“This will benefit the students by allowing them to experience the real-life startup world, working alongside founders, accelerators, investors and other members of the local startup community,” says Christopher Muzzo, clinic director who also teaches technology-related courses. “This community provides us with most of our clients, so being able to participate in their world gives our students a better perspective on what our clients are dealing with as they try to get their businesses off the ground.”

The Collaborative for Economic Development is designed to give small businesses and dreamers a one-stop source for expertise and assistance. And while its office is in downtown Covington, its vision reaches to the rural edges of Northern Kentucky.

Work that students do through the clinic, such as advising and drafting contracts and policies, is some of the expertise NKU is offering under a federal Rural Business Development Enterprise Grant that focuses on four opportunity zones in Carroll, Gallatin, Grant and Owen counties and also on Pendleton County.

“The grant enables the clinic to increase its footprint in Northern Kentucky, allowing us to reach rural areas that are traditionally underserved by the legal industry,” Professor Muzzo says. “Our students benefit by being able to interact with and serve a wider array of small business owners and nonprofit entities, giving them a greater breadth of experience as they prepare for their careers.”

Beyond Northern Kentucky, the clinic is exploring the possibility of a partnership that would extend students’ work throughout the commonwealth, possibly through communications and an information repository.

With students’ work reaching in multiple directions, both geographic and legal, the need for efficient usage of technology to track and expedite it becomes important.

“We are working to improve internal communication through use of communications platforms such as  Microsoft Teams and Slack, which are much better than email for keeping things organized. We are also working to build a collection of sample documents on the cloud,” Professor Muzzo says.

“The idea is to have examples and templates of our most commonly requested documents available to the students on demand, so that they can use them as guides in creating custom documents for our clients. As a result of the pandemic, we relied exclusively on video conferencing for client meetings last year. While in-person meetings are happening again, we give the clients the option of meeting remotely, and many prefer to continue doing so.”

Those initial conferences are part of the foundations that clinic students are laying for future law practices of consulting, advising, drafting and implementing.

“The students handle a wide variety of matters for our clients, who include for-profit businesses and nonprofits. They help founders form and register their legal entities and provide them with foundational documents, such as bylaws or operating agreements. They also provide businesses with day-to-day legal needs, such as employment or independent contractor agreements, website terms of service, privacy policies and vendor contracts. This requires the students to apply interviewing skills, research skills and drafting skills, among others,” Professor Muzzo says.

For those students, the road from Chase to the new clinic office is where the roadmap to their futures begins.