The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Business Innovations Clinic provides free legal services to entrepreneurs while helping law students learn the ropes before graduation.
The clinic is finishing its fourth year, but “it still feels new,” Director Kim Vu-Dinh told Arkansas Business. She is also an assistant professor at the William H. Bowen School of Law, which received a $1 million grant from the Arkansas attorney general’s office in 2016 to create the clinic.
“It is a legal clinic where students work directly with entrepreneurs who are starting or trying to build capacity in a small business. And so my students specifically provide transactional legal services,” she said. “So everything from filing/registering trademarks and copyright to drafting agreements, to helping them figure out what kind of notifications they need on their websites. So it runs the gamut, but essentially we try to serve as many small businesses as we can.”
The clinic is especially focused on helping rural and minority-owned businesses, she added.
Vu-Dinh supervises her students as they provide clinic services, and requests for those services come from partners all over the state, including the Arkansas Small Business Technology and Development Center at UA Little Rock, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock and Go Forward Pine Bluff.
“We are kind of like the icing on the cake, and it happens to be inexpensive icing on the cake, but without those partnerships we could not help our clients succeed,” she said.
Vu-Dinh said the clinic, an accredited course, is one way the Bowen School gives students the “hands-on education” that makes it an “incredibly special” school. Each student takes on about three projects per semester.
Since its founding, the clinic has helped a few hundred entrepreneurs, Vu-Dinh said. What’s more, it works virtually with clients — a practice that began even before the pandemic accelerated the trend. It’s also paperless.
Clinics like this one are trending nationwide, Vu-Dinh said, becoming more common across the country over the past decade, although most law clinics remain focused on helping clients with litigation.
“There is a perception that people who have businesses have money. And that's just not true,” she said. “Also, a lot of nonprofits provide huge important services to society, and they don't get free services anywhere either. And so more and more, transactional clinics are something that is considered a public interest service.”