New Program at Vanderbilt offers free legal help to business owners

NASHVILLE, Tenn. ó The new business law clinic at Vanderbilt University Law School is a classic example of a "win-win" situation: it provides free legal services to small business owners and non-profit agencies who couldn’t otherwise afford an attorney while giving law students valuable experience with actual clients.

Qualifying clients have access to the sorts of legal advice they typically need as the owner of a start-up operation or small business. "We can help an entrepreneur set up a business, review a proposed office or retail lease, provide a confidentiality agreement or assist with other basic business law matters," said Steve Wood Jr., visiting assistant clinical professor of law and director of the Business Law Clinic.

"At the same time, the clinic provides a mechanism for third-year law students to get involved in consulting with real, live clients," Wood explained. He noted that this clinic does not take on litigation work and that clients must be residents of Tennessee.

"This clinic is intended to serve those who cannot afford private attorneys," Wood explained. "There are a lot of people in middle Tennessee, particularly in economically challenged areas, who have the ideas and the desire and drive to start a business, but they don’t have a lot of money. We hope that this clinic will help some of those entrepreneurs succeed."

Wood indicated that the Business Law Clinic works closely with other organizations that assist entrepreneurs such as the Tennessee Small Business Development Center in Nashville.

Students work with the clients as part of a team that is supervised by faculty, primarily Wood. Before joining Vanderbilt in 2002, Wood owned a software company and practiced law with the Nashville firm of Sherrard & Roe.

The Law School’s clinical program comprises the new Business Law Clinic, just started in August, as well as clinics specializing in domestic violence, juvenile practice, civil practice and criminal practice. Wood says that while clinical education is popular in the United States, most legal clinics focus on litigation. Of the 20 or 30 business law clinics around the country, most have been started in the last few years.

"It’s a wonderful way of providing students with experience in the transactional practice of law while at the same time providing a service to members of the community who otherwise couldn’t afford legal work," Wood said. "This clinic exposes our students to the real world practice of business law in a way that an academic course can’t. Students are working with clients, thinking on their feet and understanding the complexity of problemsóbecause legal issues usually come in packages."

For more information, contact the Vanderbilt University Law School Legal Clinic at 322-4964.

For more news about Vanderbilt, visit the Vanderbilt News Service homepage at or the Law School’s website at

Media contact: Susanne Loftis, (615) 322-NEWS

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