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Posted Aug. 28, 2009

Nonprofit Clinic to Benefit Students, Community

Tara Boyd

The Law School launched its 20th clinic this year, a course designed to offer law students real-world transactional experience that will also benefit the nonprofit community.

The Nonprofit Clinic is a for-credit expansion of one of the Law School’s existing pro bono programs, which for the past two years has provided legal support to local nonprofits. The new clinic is offered in cooperation with the Legal Aid Justice Center and the Charlottesville-based Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

“It’s a great benefit to the community and fits in nicely with the philosophy of the Law School to provide community service and public-sector involvement,” said Allen Hench, who will co-teach the clinic. “It helps the students do something for charities and nonprofits but simultaneously has the benefit of being very instructional.”

Clinic students will be paired with local nonprofits, and over the year will perform a legal health check. The process will include a review of the organization’s policies and procedures, founding documents and tax status, and the student will likely attend board meetings and meet with the organization’s leaders and board members.

Students will test classroom lessons against real-world problems to develop workable solutions for nonprofit clients in a learning environment structured more like a small firm than a lecture hall, the clinic instructors said.

“There will be an initial meeting with a nonprofit organization and the student will have to do an engagement letter just like a law firm, and will also have to keep time as if he or she was an associate,” said clinic instructor Tara Boyd ’02, a partner at the Charlottesville office of LeClairRyan.

Hench, a Charlottesville resident, has 33 years of experience in Pennsylvania and now concentrates his practice in real estate and estate planning and administration, along with other areas such as municipal law and nonprofit representation.

He first became involved with the Law School as a volunteer more than two years ago, working with the school’s nonprofit pro bono program. Boyd, who specializes in land use and commercial real estate, joined Hench as a volunteer on the same project last year.

The clinic will focus on transactional work, which Boyd said is often overlooked as a forum for pro bono opportunities.

“So much pro bono work is litigation- or bankruptcy-focused, and it can seem like there’s not a lot out there for the transactional lawyer,” she said. “But, in fact, there is plenty of pro bono work out there and students who come out of our clinic will understand what they can do in their professional lives to fulfill their pro bono obligation.”

The yearlong clinic will admit six students, but will benefit more than six nonprofits, as the students will also receive class assignments to review and draft materials for additional organizations, including those who are members of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. It is not necessary for clinic participants to have a third-year practice license; the class is open to second- and third-year law students.

By ashley matthews