Blog author Nelson Miller, associate dean and professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus, gives high marks to law students and area entrepreneurs for bringing business and law together during a Poverty Relief/Entrepreneurial Law workshop. Participants and legal experts worked together to generate creative ideas, along with business solutions.
The old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is true, but lawyers can go one more step by giving the poor the access to the fish market. Poverty remains a real concern in the United States, and a real concern worldwide. Many poverty-relief efforts focus on the importance of charitable giving.
Yet the poor need, indeed want more than a handout. While charitable donations provide critical support, many poor may benefit more from the opportunity to provide for themselves, putting to work their own skills. What they really need is access to the markets that produce the goods and services that others so generously offer.
Law can provide access. A legal knowledge ensures that ambitious individuals can put to work their creative energies to not only earn an income but protect their hard-earned capital for themselves and others. Yet, the law can also create obstacles. Sometimes law unduly complicate and obstruct people and their business by stealing and harming capital capacity.
In an effort to generate solutions, WMU-Cooley law school students are working with community entrepreneurs in several workshops. The Poverty Relief/Entrepreneurial Law workshops were designed to investigate how to help area citizens, especially populations of African American, Hispanic Latino, and women, gain access to market opportunities.
Community leaders and business owners spoke in inspiring testimony to both the opportunities and challenges of capitalizing on one’s own creative energies. The businesses included barbers, painters, designers, inventors, caterers, drivers, therapists, consultants, and professionals. From their testimony, workshop participants listed 20 steps, from entity formation through contract development, property lease or purchase, and first employees, to dispute resolution, mergers and acquisitions, and succession, where lawyers provide critical help to business owners. A team of WMU-Cooley students are working do develop a checklist and educational brochure to help participants along their way.
The workshop also illustrated the great service opportunities for lawyers. Lawyers are makers, creators, and economic drivers. Watching law students and small-business owners working together, and imagining success and opportunity shows the world a new way to attack poverty. Welcome to the fish market!