The Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship (IJ Clinic) continued to be a lifeline for small businesses in Chicago in 2020-21 through our in-depth representation of low-income entrepreneurs, advocacy for economic liberty, and outreach for small businesses throughout the city. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, entrepreneurs and small business owners struggled to navigate a changing economic and regulatory landscape. The IJ Clinic’s students and attorneys were able to provide invaluable guidance to both clients and lawmakers so that the small businesses that are key to our economic future can survive and even flourish.
The IJ Clinic’s clients included a variety of businesses founded by low-income entrepreneurs in Chicago. For example, we represented
- a worker cooperative owned by street vendors to operate a shared kitchen
- a designer sneaker and handbag company founded by a man who learned his craft in a prison workshop and determined to build a company around his talents when he came home
- a coffee shop and roastery founded by friends in their neighborhood of Back of the Yards after they tried and failed to convince big-name coffee shops to open in the neighborhood
- a worker-owned bicycle messenger service that delivers orders for restaurants
- a healing business that coordinates yoga, meditation, acupuncture, counseling, and other healing practices for customers on site and online
- a detergent company that has developed a formula for a plant-based, gentle laundry detergent, which is now sold all over the country
The IJ Clinic’s clients mean everything to their founders and to their communities. In the past year, as businesses struggled to stay open or to pivot in ways that allowed them to survive regulatory restrictions, our students counseled them through decisions big and small. Students’ significant achievements in this kind of counseling are hard to list here. But their creativity, their insight, their dedication, their wisdom, their knowledge of complex bodies of law, and their care for delivering actionable advice made it possible for our clients to survive and in fact to reach new milestones in their businesses.
Details of our clients’ decisions and dealings are confidential, of course. But here is a sampling of some of the major projects students worked on for clients in the past year:
- After years of strategic planning and hoping, a client purchased the building that they had been renting for years. Students coordinated the real estate acquisition, the government grant protocols, and the loan transaction, as well as advising the client organization along the way.
- Students counseled a client through the process of negotiating angel investments and analyzing a term sheet for a major investment.
- Students created a system for a client to analyze advertising and labeling claims to figure out if they comply with legal guidelines.
- A student drafted a brief convincing the U.S. Trademark Office to reverse its decision denying a client’s trademark application.
- Students reviewed all the construction agreements and government permitting procedures for a client building out a new store location.
- Students helped a client navigate the transaction to buy core intellectual property it had been licensing.
- Students redesigned the ownership classes of a company owned by dozens of workers.
- Students analyzed delicate trademark conflicts and devised strategies for clients trying to protect their marks.
- Students researched intricate regulatory schemes related to customs and tariffs, workplace safety procedures, and medical devices.
In addition to their accomplishments working with clients, several students contributed crucially to the IJ Clinic’s legislative agenda.
- Students drafted key provisions in a bill that would require Illinois to conduct a sunrise review process before enacting new occupational licensing laws, and the students negotiated the bill with lawmakers and the state’s administrative agency.
- The IJ Clinic was one of the leaders in reforming the cottage foods law in Illinois this year, so that entrepreneurs can sell homemade foods outside of farmers markets. Students had researched other states’ laws, drafted language for the bill, and negotiated with stakeholders and opponents.
- Students led the effort to reform restrictions on home-based businesses in Chicago, researching the law in other cities and drafting amendments strategically. Thanks to their efforts, entrepreneurs in Chicago are allowed to use more space in their homes to start businesses.
Lastly, the IJ Clinic continues to shine a spotlight on entrepreneurship on the South Side of Chicago. While many news stories about the South Side focus on crime or poverty, the IJ Clinic lifts up the models of innovation and inspiration among the South Side’s entrepreneurs. The South Side Pitch is a competition for those innovators that culminates in a wonderful evening for the finalists to face off before a panel of expert judges and the standing room only audience, a la Shark Tank. In 2020, we re-invented the competition to focus on established businesses on the South Side, not start-ups. In a time when customers were feeling disconnected from small businesses, and small businesses were wondering if they could survive the pandemic, we used our virtual competition to expose hundreds of Chicagoans to the semi-finalists and finalists whose businesses contribute so much to their South Side neighborhoods.