When IJ Clinic students help real-world entrepreneurs who seek to open or expand their businesses, our students take those dreams personally. And when the government—for no good reason—interferes with those dreams of a better life, the students not only gain a deeper understanding of the law, but they have a transformative experience that changes their view of the role of government and the importance of freedom for entrepreneurs.
If you want to introduce a student to libertarian ideas, don’t just give him a reading list or a lecture; have the student place a phone call to the local government, trying to get an answer to a simple question a small business owner might ask. No amount of study or discussion or analysis can educate a student about the perils of excessive regulation by overreaching governments as well as a single phone call to a confusing and clueless bureaucrat.
Take, for example, the experience of Katy Welter, a recent IJ Clinic student. Katy wrote:
I had always been sympathetic to entrepreneurs, having been raised by one. But working in the IJ Clinic put me in an entrepreneur’s shoes. I saw firsthand the Byzantine and often counterintuitive laws, licensing requirements, regulations, and inspections faced by barbers, shoe store owners, children’s activity providers and shared workspace innovators.
I saw the extraordinary risks inner-city entrepreneurs took to make their dreams a reality. It’s not easy and never certain. Vague and patchwork legislation often exacerbates these challenges without protecting the public interest. Sign permits and parking requirements come to mind.
I also saw the mechanics of failure. Sometimes our clients’ dreams weren’t realistic. It’s fair to fail because you lack capital or skill or because your competitors best you. But some of our clients closed their doors—or never opened them—because they couldn’t cope with the licensing fees and rules, unexpected zoning conflicts, or recalcitrant local officials. What struck me most was how the process let them down. The success of their business should not depend as much upon lawyers (or law students) as the quality of or demand for their product or service. But it does.
The IJ Clinic trains students to become activists on behalf of entrepreneurs, and many continue their activism after graduation. Dan Johnson, a member of the IJ Clinic’s first class, became a lobbyist and has convinced legislators to adopt amendments recommended by the IJ Clinic’s city study that examined regulatory barriers on Chicago-area entrepreneurs. Jacob Huebert, Class of 2002, is one of the founding attorneys of the Liberty Justice Center, litigating for entrepreneurs in Illinois. Alex Grelli, Class of 2009, has advocated for reforms to zoning laws on behalf of urban agriculture entrepreneurs and helped change laws in Pennsylvania that constrained entrepreneurs with craft distilleries—all this on top of his law firm responsibilities.
Indeed, most of our alums actively apply the lessons they learned about entrepreneurship, dedicated advocacy for clients and the complexity of excessive regulation in their careers. IJ Clinic graduates practice law with acute sensitivity and compassion for clients who are trying to create jobs in spite of countless regulatory barriers. They tell us they use the skills and perspective they learned here every day.
IJ is packing the courts of law, the halls of legislatures and the court of public opinion with trained advocates for economic liberty. And each day we continue our mission to help one Chicago entrepreneur after another create private sector businesses that will transform not only the lives of the entrepreneur and those they employ, but entire communities across our region.
Elizabeth Milnikel directs the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship.