For many, lawyers and the law can be scary and unfamiliar. The legal landscape may seem inaccessible, and unrepresentative of the people it serves. Finding a lawyer may be challenging, and the process can be expensive. These challenges are even more pronounced for business owners from BIPOC, women-owned, veterans, and rural communities.
Vermont Law and Graduate School’s (VLGS) Entrepreneurial Legal Lab (VLSell) is working diligently to overcome those perceptions and realities. They are breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of small business owners getting what they need from Vermont’s legal system.
Through the Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP), VLGS is taking action by providing:
Individual educational consults to answer legal questions and help business owners get ready to work with an attorney;
For qualifying businesses, a paid referral to an attorney who can meet the business’s transactional legal needs (with our program paying for up to 10 hours of those services); and
Public presentations and office hours to groups of business owners and stakeholders
In just 18 months since CNPP launched in Vermont, VLGS has reached about 70 businesses from a broad variety of industries with educational consult services. Of that number, an estimated 50 have received paid referrals to attorneys.
The VLSell team is working closely with CNPP hub Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) and the nine spoke organizations, connecting business owners with a breadth and depth of resources available statewide.
“Working with Vermont Law & Graduate School has helped many clients better understand the legal issues they face when starting or building a business,” said Linda Rossi, State Director of the VtSBDC. “The professors and law students share their expertise in a way that is understandable and approachable for small business owners at any stage of their business. In addition, they have provided helpful tools to CNPP spoke organizations and VtSBDC’s advising team so that clients are prepared and confident when they do meet with an attorney.”
In addition, VLGS is educating Vermont’s small business community with a series of webinars on a variety of topics that address the most-asked questions they are receiving. The webinars are facilitated by VLGS attorneys along with law students who have researched each topic. To date, the webinars encompass:
- Hiring and Working with a Lawyer
- De-Mystifying Intellectual Property
- Intellectual Property: Opportunities, Barriers,
- and Challenges
- Is There a Legal Solution to Your Business
- Data Privacy & Your Business
- Less Risk … More Security
- How to Make Contracts the Right Tools for
- Your Business
- Why do Contracts Go Wrong?
Upcoming webinars will address bankruptcy, transition/dissolution, entity choices, and business goals.
The VLSell team has also been out and about in the community, presenting to organizations like Startup Rutland, Generator, and the Center for Women and Enterprise, and presenting at events like the Vermont Floral Forum. They have reported their impact to the House Committee on Commerce and Community Development and to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Division. The program is being noticed by legislators, public and private stakeholders, and media across the state.
VLGS has put plans and programs in place that will outlast the two-year CNPP program. They anticipate being able to serve non-profit as well as for-profit companies, additional programming and outreach to startups working with venture capitalists, a legal boot camp for high school and college entrepreneurs, connecting with more innovation hubs, and continuing to partner with the VtSBDC and the CNPP spoke organizations into the future.
“The CNPP let us try out a new model of legal services to serve the needs of Vermont’s small businesses,” said Nicole Killoran, Director of VLSell. “The success of the CNPP and our amazing relationships with the other CNPP spokes inspired us to continue the model. Business owners find the law to be a scary and unaffordable barrier to entering the marketplace, and they don’t have enough information to recognize whether they would even benefit from legal services. In our next phase, we hope to address those needs, and to better integrate legal services into the small business support network in Vermont.”
Visit the websites to learn more about the Community Navigator Pilot Program and Vermont Law & Graduate School’s Entrepreneurial Legal Lab (VLSell).