Friday, October 28, 2011

Give Clinical Teaching a Try

As some of you know, I spend much of my time supervising a Community Development Law (CDL) Clinic at UNC-Chapel Hill.  We work exclusively with nonprofit organizations, and, although we don't go to court for them, we do pretty much anything else that 1) they need, 2) will create a good learning experience for our law students and 3) the faculty supervisors feel competent so supervise.  I collaborate in the CDL Clinic with Professor Judith Wegner.  More on her, below.

Because most of my Nonprofit Law colleagues in the academy are from the "podium" side of their law schools, I thought it would be interesting to briefly describe some of the work we do.  We began this year with approximately thirty-eight clients, most of them new.  We split our eight students (who work with us for the full academic year) into two-person teams and each team received five or six clients.  We give them multiple clients because it ensures they will always have sufficient work to keep them occupied and because it compels them to be careful about setting priorities, planning ahead, and communicating carefully with their clients about the timing of the legal tasks.

I try to limit the number of nonprofit formations we accept each year, but we usually do one per student and I try to choose organizations that will present novel, or at least interesting, legal issues.  This year, for example, we are forming a nunnery for adherents of a non-Judeo-Christian religion.  After interviewing the client, the students immediately recognized that there could be a private inurement or private benefit problem, since the principals who wish to form the organization would be living in the community and benefiting from its religious education program, not to mention its food and shelter.  Another new organization wishes to stimulate economic development in poverty-stricken South American communities, partly by teaching peasant cofee growers how to improve the quality of their harvests and market them at premium prices to coffee exporters.  In addition to the usual complications of forming organizations that work overseas, the students recognized that they might have to grapple with "commerciality" concerns.

We also work with existing organizations of various sizes.  One public health organization we have been advising for several years has been grappling with legal issues caused by its tremendous success and impact.  It has grown from a small, local nonprofit organization to a national model with projects around the country. CDL students this year have been advising the organization about protecting its intellectual property and about its obligations to file Certificates of Authority and/or Charitable Solicitation licenses in various jurisdictions.

Other clients have us working on zoning and land-use planning, UBIT, risk reduction strategies (particularly for organizations that work with minors), affordable housing, and finding the line between "religious organization" and "church" for IRS purposes.  As I have mentioned in earlier blog postings, we have a regular stream of clients who consider themselves social enterprises and want to know whether to form as nonprofits or for-profits.

Earlier in this prolix post, I mentioned my colleague, Judith Wegner.  As many of you know, she was the dean of this law school, was the president of the AALS, and was one of the authors of the Carnegie Report.  Several years ago, Judith decided that she wanted to add clinical supervision to her vast teaching experience, so she approached me about sitting "second chair" in the CDL Clinic.  She has been supervising CDL students since then, and she and I have learned much from one another.

For those of you who teach podium classes on Nonprofit Law but have not strayed down to your clinics, you ought to think about giving it a whirl.  I think you would find it fun and challenging.


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