Law School Students Aid Local Entrepreneurs

Students Get To Cook Up Some Experience
Pat Milhizer
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
January 14, 2008

When the University of Chicago Law School opened a legal clinic nearly 10 years ago to help entrepreneurs, one of the goals was to kickstart economic growth in underdeveloped neighborhoods.

Take the Perfect Peace Cafe & Bakery for example.

The West 79th Street shop sits on a block just west of Racine Avenue that features a vacant lot, another bakery that's closed and a few buildings whose windows have been covered with newspapers or replaced with plywood.

So the new business has been a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

"They say it's like being in Hyde Park, or they don't have to go to Beverly. They can come right here in their own community," said Julie Welborn, who opened the cafe in July with her business partner, Denise Nicholes.

Welborn said that she can't put a value on the guidance provided by the U of C law students who work at the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship.

The clinic helped the new business owners write and negotiate contracts to build the cafe, create loan agreements with investors, acquire business permits and understand regulations on workplace safety and payroll taxes.

"It was just a miracle how everything came together," Welborn said. "There were questions I never knew I had to ask, and they had no problem coming into the community.

"At any time we needed to negotiate with the contractors, architects or landlords, they were a part of it. To this day, anything I do, I run by them first. In that alone, I don't even know how to put a value to it," Welborn said.

Other start-ups that have been assisted by the clinic include a company whose product is frozen collard greens, a toy designer, a car wash, a clothing company and a business that sells skin-and body-care products. In all, about 150 businesses have been helped by the clinic.

"We're trying to serve those who can't afford an attorney," said clinic director Elizabeth W. Milnikel. "We're convinced that an entrepreneurs' ability to create new businesses creates new opportunity for the entrepreneurs, community members and potential employees."

The program, which offers services to those whose income is considered to be low to moderate, also pays off for nearly two dozen 2d-and 3d-year law students who have worked in the program each year since it started in the fall of 1998.

Kathy Lee, a third-year student from California, worked with the cafe owners to help them get the business open.

"Doing that opened my eyes to how many hoops there are to jump through just to bake a cake, just to serve coffee," Lee said.

"Being able to see issues real people face and being able to address them ... and wading through their stories and picking out legal roadblocks they might face, that is completely different from the experience of going through hypotheticals" in law school, Lee said.

"You get to see how things play out in real life."

Copyright (c) 2008 by Law Bulletin Publishing Company