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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


New quick advice legal clinic program aiming to help close gap for rural entrepreneurs

By Hannah Scott
CFAES Center for Cooperatives Program Director 

Imagine you are an entrepreneur starting a business or even growing an emerging business. In addition to thinking about important questions like where you will locate, how you will hire the staff you need, and how you will connect with customers, among many other considerations, you will also encounter various questions with legal implications. And you will be making decisions that can have major impacts for yourself, your business, and potentially, those around you like family members. What if you want to raise money from your family and friends to help with the costs of start-up?

What if your business is a lifelong dream for you and your best friend and you plan to work together? What if you have created a strong, recognizable brand and want to ramp up your online marketing and sales? 

If you are an entrepreneur in a rural area, getting answers to these questions from a licensed attorney can be especially challenging. As of the mid-2010’s, about 14% of Americans lived in rural areas while only about 2% of lawyers practiced in rural communities and as rural populations age, so are the populations of rural attorneys.   In a 2018 article in Ohio Lawyer, Dianna Howie shared the challenges accessing legal services in rural Ohio and the work of organizations like Southeastern Ohio Legal Services to combat these issues – while there are about 11,000 registered attorneys in Columbus, rural communities have far fewer -- in Vinton County, there were about 10 at the time.   

As business development specialists with the OSU South Centers programs, including the CFAES Center for Cooperatives, Small Business Development Center, and Manufacturing Extension Partnership, assist clients and provide community education, they have seen how often legal questions come up. “As a small business counselor, I work with many entrepreneurs in starting their own business. Many of them come to our program for assistance because they have encountered a roadblock in the start-up process. It is not uncommon for this to be a legal question that prohibits them from making a decisive decision on the direction they need to take moving forward in starting the business,” shared Brad Bapst, director of the Small Business Development Center housed at the OSU South Centers. 

So the team started planning to organize a program that will help the region’s entrepreneurs get access to legal advice and education. Hannah Scott, Program Director with the CFAES Center for Cooperatives housed at the OSU South Centers had seen the model at work in other locations. Scott shared, “One of the most impactful parts of law school for me was participating in UC Law’s Entrepreneurship & Community Development Clinic where students assist current and future business owners, and the program hosts a quick advice clinic for the community.” Scott earned her Juris Doctor from University of Cincinnati College of Law in 2020. Scott, Bapst, and other team members started brainstorming how they could host a similar clinic at the Endeavor Center business incubator at the OSU South Centers. They reached out to Paige Wilson, Director of the Entrepreneurial Business Law Clinic at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, and the OSU colleagues began collaborating on the new program.

“Building Legally Resilient Small Businesses: Quick Advice Legal Clinic for Entrepreneurs,” will be co-hosted by the Entrepreneurial Business Law Clinic at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, which provides transactional legal assistance to startups, nonprofits, and small businesses, and partner business development programs at the OSU South Centers. 

During the evening program on Wednesday, August 17, 2022, entrepreneurs can participate in free public education sessions on common legal issues for small businesses. Attorneys will teach sessions on “Legal Structures for Small Business,” “Working with Independent Contractors,” and “Legal Basics of Branding and Marketing: What to know in a digital world.” 
Entrepreneurs can also sign up for no-cost, one-on-one consultations with volunteer attorneys to explore their legal questions and receive guidance in areas like business structures, employment, contracts, marketing and advertising, venture capital, worker and other cooperatives, commercial real estate, and more. Sessions will last up to 30 minutes and participants can register for up to two sessions. 

There is no cost to participate in the program, but registration is required. Entrepreneurs interested in a one-on-one appointment will be asked to submit basic information about their legal question so staff members can try to match participants with a volunteer attorney whose practice area most closely matches their legal question. Please note, space is limited.