Pro-bonus for small businesses

Law school launches new Business Law Clinic offering free legal counsel to Queen’s and Kingston community

Student caseworkers and LAW 438 students Morgan Jarvis (left) and Yuliya Dumanska (centre) with Business Law Clinic director Peter Kissick during a class meeting at MacDonald Hall yesterday.
Student caseworkers and LAW 438 students Morgan Jarvis (left) and Yuliya Dumanska (centre) with Business Law Clinic director Peter Kissick during a class meeting at MacDonald Hall yesterday.

Kingston-area small-business owners now have access to pro-bono legal counsel thanks to a new program officially launched in September by the Faculty of Law.

“We try to help those who normally wouldn’t be able to budget their businesses,” program director Peter Kissick said. “We don’t have a set bar in place, we try to be as flexible as we can. If you’re not independently wealthy because you’ve been so busy trying to get your business started up, suffice it to say we will help.”

The Queen’s Business Law Clinic began as a pilot project in January 2009. It was created through the efforts of four third-year law students; Amaan Gangji, Matthew Lui, Kathryn Houlden and Andrew Spencer, all Law ’09, who were the first group of student caseworkers.

“The four took their proposal to the Dean of the Law School Bill Flanagan,” Kissick, an associate professor in the school of Business, who specializes in business ethics said.“They said since they were going into their last year, they would love to see a business law program developed.”

Kissick said the program provides basic legal services for new entrepreneurs.

“Our typical file is that if someone is starting out we’ll do agreements for them. Those include employment agreements, shareholder agreements and sales contracts,” he said, adding that the service doesn’t cover all types of cases.

“Patent application, we aren’t able to do that. Buying a business, for example, that’s a very large transitional file and we just don’t have the manpower for that.”

Kissick said the program has 10 open case files, consisting of businesses and non-profit organizations from the Queen’s and Kingston communities. They worked on 15 cases during their pilot stage, with three of those being student-run initiatives, which could not named due to confidentiality.

“We’ve had 15 to 20 e-mails in our inbox inquiring for our service,” he said.

Kissick said the program only extends its services to Kingston residents, but may eventually branch out further into Ontario. Kissick said the Queen’s clinic is the third of its kind in Ontario, with the University of Western Ontario and Osgoode Hall at York University also offering business law clinics.

“Osgoode’s is the closest to ours, in that it is a course and also a program,”

Kissick said the clinic offers a service previously void in the Kingston area as Legal Aid primarily address criminal proceedings and social assistance cases and isn’t designed to address business concerns.

“The Legal Aid addresses the necessities of life, if you will,” he said. “They’re not funded to provide services to businesses or business people. That’s not within their scope.”

The clinic, known to law students as LAW 438, is designed to give law students the chance to learn by gaining hands-on industry experience.

“They’re getting a chance to work on files that they typically wouldn’t work on in their academic classes,” Kissick said. “This is a two-pronged thing. We’re doing service for the community, but we’re also giving training for the law students. So it’s a win-win.”

Kissick said the program, funded entirely through a two-year, $150,000 grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario, has expanded this year to include eight second- and third-year law students.

“We didn’t want to be overly ambitious,” he said. “I didn’t want a bunch of students sitting around without anything to do and as it turns out, there’s lots of work for them to do.”

Kissick said 16 people applied to participate in the program this year and had to go through a written application process.

“They had to answer the questions of “Why are you interested in the clinic?” While the second question was, “What would you add to clinic and the city of Kingston,” he said. “Their answers were just as important as the grades.”

Kissick said he plans to hire 18 student caseworkers next year and hopes to get additional external funding from the legal community.

“We’d like to have a private firm provide funding for us,” he said. “That’s been the model for a couple other business law clinics.”

Kissick said the clinic is offering its services year-round.

“Like Queen’s Legal Aid, we’re going to be hiring students to work during the summer months.”

Student caseworker Shaughnessy Hawkins, Law ’11, said the program has provided her with invaluable industry experience prior to graduation.

“For many of us, this is the first time we get to work with a legitimate contract,” she said.“The other big thing is working with clients and being sensitive to their needs and dealing their conceptions of the law.”

Hawkins said the program created a buzz within the law school itself.

“There were lots of applications and I’m sure there will be even more in upcoming years. The dean seemed really excited about this and lots of people come to law school hoping to do things like this program.” she said. “I think Queen’s Law already has a lot of great qualities that draw students here, but a lot of people come wanting to do business law in particular. Now you get the practical experience.”

Hawkins said she believes the program is also an important town-gown outreach.

“It helps build a positive relationship with the community, because there’s sometimes tension with the residents of Kingston. The economic development we offer really helps the relationship.”

Jan Dines, manager of the Entrepreneur Centre, a small business development agency run by the Kingston Economic and Development Corporation, said she has referred nine of her clients to the clinic since the pilot project began early this year.

“You want nothing but good things to happen to your entrepreneurs. You also want them protected in the event that anything does go wrong,” she said. “It gives a great peace of mind for the small-business owners and the start-ups especially since they’re worried about money when they’re just getting their company started.”

Dines said the service gives small-businesses the opportunity to become incorporated and legally-protected as it’s offering legal services for free that would normally cost at least $1,500.

“They’re protecting themselves better by having proper documentation,” she said. “These are people that wouldn’t get a lawyer at the beginning, they would sort of hope for the best and realize that they might want to have filled out appropriate paperwork afterwards.”

Dines said she believes the program will create healthier climate for Kingston businesses.

“It’s getting small business to consider using legal services and getting their businesses off on the right foot at the beginning,” she said. “We want to ensure the sustainability in what they’re planning. Going from an idea to a successful business is not always a easy thing.”

—With files from Emily Davies

Legal aid resources

For more information on the Queen’s Business Law Clinic send questions to:

Queen’s Legal Aid offers on-campus pro-bono legal services in areas such as:

•Criminal Offences of a relatively minor nature

•Employee’s Rights Matters

•Provincial Offences of a relatively serious nature

•Small Claims Court Matters

•Income Maintenance Matters

•Tenants’ Rights Matters

•Victims’ Rights Matters

For more information call 613-533-2102.

—Emily Davies


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