Law Clinics Offer Pro-Bono Benefits for Students, Community
About two years ago, Cindy Metteer designed and sewed a stuffed polar bear to show her support for a friend battling breast cancer. The hand-sewed teddy was intended to just be a gift, but it spawned the concept behind Bear-A-Cause, a home business Cindy and her husband, Richard, are launching to raise funds for disease research.
The Nampa, Idaho, couple had several years of combined experience in retail, sales and advertising, so they already knew many of the steps necessary to start a business. They were prepared to navigate the legal waters by themselves when they discovered they wouldn’t have to.
While researching liability and trademark information and forms online, the Metteers discovered the Small Business Legal Clinic at the University of Idaho College of Law, which offers free legal counsel to small businesses.
“They are helping us research our name and logo for trademark purposes, and they have offered support on every step of the process of creating a new business — a service we’ll be considering as we continue expanding,” said Richard Metteer. “It is great to see the benefit of a service like this to the business community. Many people wouldn’t know where to find the information by themselves.”
The Metteers are working with third-year law students Lourdes Matsumoto and Chad Johnson, overseen by Lee Dillion, associate dean for Boise programs and the clinic’s director, to finish the trademark application and find out how to legally produce and sell their collectible bears. Stephen Nipper, a Boise intellectual property attorney who has co-taught the clinic class for the past two years, supervises the trademark applications at the clinic.
The UI Small Business Legal Clinic, based in Boise but serving clients statewide, was created in 2003. The clinic has paired over 50 law students with more than 150 Idaho-based start-up companies, including online businesses, food manufacturers, engineering consultants, recreational companies, software developers, firefighters, truckers, a ceramic artist, a hairdresser and day care operators. Each client has its own unique set of needs and challenges, and the clinic customizes its offerings for each.
“Most of the Small Business Legal Clinic clients just want to get their formation paperwork in order and then get on to their business, but some will come back after a few years if they need help with hiring new employees, or are passing their business to their kids,” Dillion said.
Dillion runs his clinic law-firm style, sitting around a table with the students discussing their caseloads each week. He helps the students with legal advice as well as how to interact with clients and develop their interpersonal skills. All students are in the third year of law school through UI’s College of Law and serve 180 hours per semester at the clinic.
“The main mission of the clinic is teaching our law students. The side benefit is the service we offer to the community,” Dillion said. “The point I always emphasize with potential clients is that the client needs to be someone who has an understanding of our educational mission and who will work at the pace the students work: we’re free, but we’re slow.”
The clinic’s timing and delivery works for the Metteers.
“We are going through each step carefully,” Richard Metteer said. “We don’t want anything to come back to haunt us later.”
“Right now, they are researching for us if our name and logo already exist, for trademark purposes. That’s very time consuming and you have to be careful,” Cindy Metteer said. “I can’t imagine trying to go through all that research by myself.”
The Small Business Legal Clinic is one of the many clinics the UI College of Law offers its students and community members. The mission of the clinics is to offer real-life experience to law students in different aspects of law practice.
Students who have professional experience in their fields before graduation often have a considerable advantage over their peers when searching for jobs. In many cases, the experience can be attained by the student via internships, but the University of Idaho College of Law offers its students practical training in-house through legal clinics and externships.
At UI’s six law clinics, third-year students who have earned their limited licenses to practice from the Idaho Supreme Court apply classroom theory to hands-on legal practice and represent clients under the supervision of UI faculty.
Article by Maria Ortega, University of Idaho Boise