PROVIDENCE – Roger Williams University has started a new law clinic that will enable students to give back to the community while gaining practical legal experience.
RWU Law’s Community Economic Development Clinic, which formally launched Tuesday in a ceremony at the university’s Providence campus, will focus on teaching students to represent clients by providing legal services to nonprofit and community-based businesses in Rhode Island. Supervised by faculty, students will work one-on-one with nonprofit leaders and small business owners on their legal needs.
The clinic is the law school’s fourth, alongside the Criminal Defense Clinic, an Immigration Clinic and the Mediation Clinic.
Organizations partnering with the clinic to date include the Urban Greens Food Co-op, a consumer-owned cooperative working to open a retail grocery store aimed at providing healthy food options for residents in Providence’s urban neighborhoods; the Sol Chariots Pedicab Cooperative, which offers bike taxis, tours and deliveries in Providence; and Navigant Credit Union, which will work with the clinic to develop business law workshops for small businesses in Central Falls. Talks with other organizations are under way.
“The primary goal of the clinic will be to teach the practice of transactional lawyering while providing service to under-served entrepreneurs and organizations,” explained the new clinic’s director, Associate Clinical Professor of Law Gowri J. Krishna.
“Students will interview and counsel clients, grasp legal and ethical issues, determine the best legal entity choice, assist with the creation and filing of organizational documents, agreements, leases and other contracts,” Krishna said. “The bottom-line question that will govern all clinical activities is, ‘What do I need to do to become an excellent lawyer?’”
For its inaugural semester, the CED Clinic has enrolled four students; in addition to working with Urban Greens, Sol Chariots and Navigant Credit Union, they are assessing community needs that the clinic might serve in future semesters. Beginning next spring, the clinic will jump to the full complement of 10 students, each of whom will contribute 20 to 25 hours of work per week.
Samantha Clarke, a third-year law student from New Bedford, is a member of the inaugural class.
“Until I enrolled in this clinic, I wasn’t sure how my legal education could be of use to my struggling hometown, where the impact of the recession was palpable and powerful,” Clarke said. “But this has been the most valuable experience for me in law school so far. It gives me the opportunity to serve others in the same way I hope to serve the people of my hometown someday.”
The clinic will provide another way for students to gain real-world experience while studying and preparing to transition into the working world, said University President Donald J. Farish.
“From our Community Partnerships Center to our Latino Policy Institute to public-benefit programs like Oyster Gardening, faculty, staff and students from Roger Williams impact the lives of Rhode Islanders across the state, day in and day out,” Farish said. “RWU Law is no exception, and the Community Economic Development Clinic offers a remarkable illustration of how we can serve community needs and allow students to apply their knowledge in real-world settings.”
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