a community garden to feed the needy and ease the homeless back into the
workforce sounded simple enough. But to pull it off, the UNC undergraduates who
came up with the idea for Hope Gardens in Chapel Hill, N.C., needed to make
decisions about complex issues such as corporate structure, insurance and
liability, and board development. Selected to be part of the Campus Y's Social
Innovation Incubator, the Hope Gardens entrepreneurs had access to pro bono
advice across campus. At the law school, Thomas Kelley,
professor and faculty supervisor of the Community Development Law Clinic,
dug in to help.
nice that the law school is finding ways to be involved with innovation, which
the chancellor and other University leaders have emphasized," says Kelly.
fall, third-year law students in the Community Development Law Clinic will lend
their expertise to the four startups chosen to make up the inaugural Social
Innovation Incubator, which launched in January. The incubator provides up to
$15,000 in seed funding to each startup and steers the student entrepreneurs to
professors and student-staffed clinics on campus and some experts off campus
for free guidance.
Harrill '98, director of the Campus Y, and Mathilde Verdier, who coordinates
the incubator, have been working to formalize the strategic partnerships that
connect the student social entrepreneurs with the law school, the School of
Journalism and Mass Communication, Kenan-Flagler Business School, the School of
Public Health and the computer and public policy departments.
schools and entities don't have an excuse to play together very often," Harrill
says. "To be programmatically strong, the incubator has to be
interdisciplinary. We've tried to make it easier for the entrepreneurs to find
the services that these schools and departments can provide."
envisions that the students staffing the law clinic will conduct presentations
on topics useful to nonprofits and for-profits working on social innovations: a
business plan structure for nonprofits to avoid unrelated business income tax;
best practices for governance boards; the IRS' unpredictable commerciality
doctrine; and the pros and cons of nonprofits and for-profits.
presentations will be a powerful education experience for the law students,"
Kelley says. "To be able to put on a meaningful presentation, they'll have to
know their stuff."
on, the startups might become clients of the clinic, and the 3Ls could help the
startups draft bylaws, pull together a board and negotiate and draft contracts.
law school has five legal clinics at present -
in addition to the Community Development clinic, students staff clinics
pertaining to Civil Legal Assistance, Domestic Violence, Juvenile Justice, and
Immigration and Human Rights Policy – and in the fall will
open a Consumer Financial Transactions Clinic to help people stuck in the
foreclosure crisis, among other financial matters. By working in the clinics,
"3Ls learn a lot of important lawyering skills," Kelley says. "They grapple
with and get comfortable with the role lawyers play in society and in relation
to their clients. It helps 3Ls get ready to represent living, breathing clients
when they graduate."
thinking innovatively, came up with another advantage the law school's
partnership with the Social Innovation Incubator holds for law students.
enterprise is starting to boom," Verdier says. "Law students might want to look
into this as a future career opportunity."
-July 9, 2012