In retrospect, two years of participation in the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship have yielded results quite different from those I expected when I joined as a second-year University of Chicago Law School student. Like most students with little or no hands-on legal experience, I came to the IJ Clinic with only a general knowledge of basic legal precepts and an understanding in the abstract of what corporations, partnerships and limited liability companies are and do.
The very idea of entrepreneurship, as both a legal field and, more fundamentally, a guiding spirit that animates a particular way of life, was relatively unknown to me. What I did not know then, and perhaps could not have known, was that the educational opportunities afforded through clinical work were not merely supplemental to coursework. Rather, the IJ Clinic offered to teach what cannot be taught within the sterile confines of a classroom by exposing me to the rough-and-ready reality of start-up companies and the diverse array of personalities that utilize them to achieve an equally diverse array of ends.
“Entrepreneurial,” a term generally used to classify a sprawling range of character traits and qualities, denotes a kind of risk-seeking ambition that simultaneously defies the status quo and entreats the vicissitudes of fortune. And yet, a mere glance at the roster of IJ Clinic clients demonstrates well the extent to which the term resists a concise definition. It captures within itself an entirely heterogeneous group of persons who each entertain highly individualized aspirations and for whom success, though equally sweet, means something entirely different.
During my clinical tenure, I have had the pleasure of working primarily with two clients whose stories illustrate the point. The first, Carmen Wells, is a local Chicagoan who designs a wide array of avant-garde furniture for private residences and businesses throughout the Chicago area. She and her brother, McKinley, as partners in the business, originally came to the IJ Clinic seeking advice on the usual range of start-up concerns—business formation, licensing, agreements and on-going compliance. As a prospective client, Carmen had a number of aces in the hole. She had a clear and cogent business plan that was grounded in considerable experience in the industry; she had not merely an interest in succeeding, but an unmitigated passion for it; and she had an effervescent personality that was coupled with a forcefulness when she spoke of her business and its trajectory. In short, despite having limited capital, she knew where she was, and she knew where she was going. And she got there. Within only two years after being engaged by the Clinic, Carmen and her brother have achieved virtually all of their original ambitions—her company, clientele and profitability have grown tremendously, and they now have even more ambitious plans for the upcoming years.
My second client is a Ukranian immigrant, Sergei Savva, whose ambition has been to support himself and his family by running a limousine service for the Chicago area, with an emphasis on transportation to the O’Hare and Midway airports. He came to the IJ Clinic as sole proprietor of his business, seeking advice on licensing, incorporation and business planning issues—all of which he received through the combined efforts of IJ staff, students from the Clinic and the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Since he began working with the IJ Clinic, Sergei has realized and, indeed, aggressively modified his entrepreneurial aspiration of self-employment by successfully operating and expanding his business. Moreover, his various successes along the way have had reciprocal educational effects on those students who had a hand in them. We learned to identify many of the ingredients of a successful venture by watching them assume form in Sergei and his enterprise.
While the flourishing of these two businesses appears, at first glance, to be dissimilar—in terms of the contrasting personalities, ambitions and issues—in actuality, both reflect the same core attribute of entrepreneurial spirit that the IJ Clinic searches for in all prospective clients. This spirit, whose manifestation is unique in every client; this combination of talent, vision and determination that pumps through the arteries of every entrepreneurial venture and that represents someone’s dream to change some facet of the world: this is the common denominator of success, and embedded within it is the underlying rationale for why the IJ Clinic’s lawyers and student counselors do what they do.
The deceptively simple, animating truth is that law is as much about realizing dreams as it is about coping with present reality; it is as much about where we are going as it is about where we are. The Clinic involves itself in projects where the law cannot be reduced to a mere collection of neatly arranged sticks and carrots and where its practitioners are not simply transaction costs. And while every client has a different story, the lesson and reward are ever the same. In words borrowed from the IJ Clinic’s director, Joe Holt, who aptly summarized the Clinic experience by describing the “employee benefits” offered to students, “We get to feel good about doing good.”
|“The IJ Clinic offered to teach what cannot be taught within the sterile confines of a classroom by exposing me to the rough-and-ready reality of start-up companies.”|