By Matt Diaz, J.D. ’16
In early August, Amanda L. Kool, Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor of Harvard Law School’s Community Enterprise Project of the Transactional Law Clinics (“CEP”), and CEP clinical student Matt Diaz, J.D. ’16, met with staff members of the Sustainable Economies Law Center (“SELC”) in Oakland, California to cement a partnership between the two organizations. With a shared ambition to foster community economic development through innovative approaches to transactional law, the partnership between the relatively-new law school clinic and the influential legal services organization carries tremendous potential for the organizations themselves, the clients they represent, and lawyers interested in how transactional law can play an important role in the modern economy.
Co-founded by Janelle Orsi and Jenny Kassan, SELC engages a broad set of legal approaches to facilitate “community resilience and grassroots economic empowerment.” Through its various interconnected programs—including its program focused on promoting cooperative businesses—the organization offers legal expertise to empower communities to transition to fairer and more robust local economies. SELC’s multifaceted strategy involves legislative advocacy, workshops, and educational materials for lawyers and community members, and the delivery of legal services through channels such as its “Resilient Communities Legal Cafe,” where SELC staff and volunteer attorneys provide legal consultations to community businesses and organizations.
CEP is similarly invested in community economic development, though CEP’s targeted communities are those that surround the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. In addition to representing clients with a wide range of transactional legal needs, CEP students work in small groups to connect with community organizations, identify transactional legal needs common to their community, and develop tailor-made, comprehensive strategies to address those needs.
During the fall semester, a group of CEP students will work closely with SELC staff to create a comprehensive guide that demystifies the myriad laws related to forming and operating a cooperative business in Massachusetts. The collaboration between CEP and SELC will afford the students access to some of the nation’s foremost experts on cooperatives, while CEP’s local community ties and outreach efforts ensure that the guide will benefit from a strong network of cooperative lawyers and technical assistance providers in Greater Boston, as well. Once finished, the guide will be published, translated, and distributed through the Transactional Law Clinics’ website and through the project’s community partners, as well as hosted by SELC on the state-by-state resources page of their popular website, www.co-oplaw.org.
In addition to the cooperative guide, CEP tapped SELC’s expertise to finalize a document produced last semester by CEP students Susan Nalunkuma, LL.M. ’15, Steven Salcedo, J.D. ’16, and Diaz. This document, A Legal Overview of Business Ownership for Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Massachusetts, was created in partnership with the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative and is intended for use by immigrant entrepreneurs in Massachusetts, as well as by technical assistance providers and community organizers who work with immigrant entrepreneurs across the state.
Because of the document’s comprehensive foray into diverse areas of law, preparation of the materials entailed cutting-edge research at the intersection of business law, employment law, tax law, and immigration law, bringing together dozens of lawyers, academics, and professionals in the community and across the country. Due to the profile of the project, CEP students and staff were able to connect with people such as Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant who became a lawyer in 2014 after a five-year legal battle that ended with a new state law permitting undocumented immigrants to be admitted to the California bar.
“CEP has a successful track record of creating well-researched, useful publications amid the community workshops, client representation, and other great work CEP students complete each semester. However, this project proved to be our most challenging one yet, due to the many areas of law involved and the fact that no one, to our knowledge, has ever compiled such a thorough analysis of the many legal implications of immigrant entrepreneurship. We could not have completed this project without our lead project partner (the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative) and their meaningful connections to the population at the heart of this document, and we are indebted to countless lawyers and other experts across the country who advised and supported us along the way.” –Amanda L. Kool, Lecturer on Law
Though the document was only recently published, A Legal Overview of Business Ownership for Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Massachusetts promises to have national significance, as other organizations already plan to build upon CEP’s work by creating new iterations of the document for other states across the U.S. This fall, Professor Eliza Platts-Mills and her students in the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic of the University of Texas Law School will be modeling CEP’s project on behalf of immigrant entrepreneurs in Texas, and similar collaborations have been proposed by lawyers in other states. CEP and SELC are currently exploring ways in which SELC can host these state-specific resources for immigrant entrepreneurs on their popular website.
“Working on the immigrant entrepreneurs document has served as an invaluable source of development for me,” Diaz said. “The project presented an opportunity to make a significant impact in uncharted legal territory, uncovering a rabbit hole of legal research possibilities. The effect we have been able to spark on a sizable underrepresented population is a testament to CEP, which allows students to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits and target relevant issues afflicting local community members. I cannot wait to see that effect expand, as organizations around the country build upon the foundation we have built.” –Matt