October 27, 2021

Business as (un)Usual

SBLC Rural Entrepreneurs Program provides service and solutions.

The Small Business Legal Clinic’s Rural Entrepreneurs Program (REP) is bringing transactional legal services to low-income business owners in rural areas of Oregon. The Program began in 2019 and is fueled by the belief that finances and geography should never function as a barrier to legal access. Staff Attorney Shanna Knight leads the REP, with law student support.

Knight actively works to engage with rural business owners, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations, as well as providing legal services and partnering with Native communities both on- and off-Reservation. Native clients now comprise approximately 50% of the workload. “It’s exciting,” shared Knight as she discussed the program’s growth, “we’re seeing more matters from wider areas.”

REP defines “rural” using a “small town” threshold — any community of less than 35,000 residents. Clients are able to secure ten hours of transactional legal services for a flat fee of $25.00. In the past year, client case matters have included IP protection work, entity formation, preparing contracts, and researching emergent COVID-19 precedent.

One client who directly benefited from REP is Oregon Coast Glassworks (OCG) in Newport, owned by Robin and William Murphy. Both are members of Native American Tribes. Robin is an accountant, William is a glass artist, and their shop sells the work of various glass and local artists, and offers hands-on experiences with glass blowing sessions where participants create incredible memories and glass art.

While still able to offer items through the OCG website, the COVID lockdown restrictions impacted the Murphy’s business income. They turned to the REP for assistance in a review and renegotiation of their lease. Knight was able to successfully advise them, with the help of work done by law student Maggie Powers ’21, a Legal Research Assistant with SBLC.

“Maggie conducted research for us on lease negotiations, identifying multiple options for clients to consider in the last year” Knight stated. Maggie Powers commented on her work, “it was especially rewarding because it allowed me to assist small businesses to succeed in a tumultuous time.”

Powers researched contracts with force majeure clauses, contracts without force majeure clauses, and other options offered by new federal programs started in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“I reviewed the federal law Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), how it interacted with Oregon state law, and how its guidelines affected employers and employees,” said Powers. “I crafted a summary and frequently asked questions for employers to ensure their compliance with FFCRA.”

As the REP continues to assist clients with pandemic-related issues, it also continues to grow and offer support in more standard transactional matters. Client applications are submitted on a rolling basis with work beginning at the start of each semester. Entity formation, contracts, employer counseling, and a host of other services are frequently requested.

Attorneys interested in Pro Bono projects as well as students interested in working with the clinic can find out more at the SBLC website. The clinic is supported by donations from the legal and business community.