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Unique online legal service supports social entrepreneurs

April 21, 2011

Overlooked and more often than not, underestimated, the cost of legal fees for aspiring social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders can sometimes be the difference between the next step and going home.

Now however, there's a new tool to help combat the dreaded cost of lawyers while still gaining much needed legal assistance.

That tool is LawForChange.

"LawForChange is a unique and innovative online legal resource designed to support, strengthen and empower people and organizations in the U.S.," senior program officer Carrier Garber says. "Positioned at the intersection of law and social change, the site provides an online community for social entrepreneurs and others in the social sector as well [as providing] critical legal information and resources."

LawForChange is a part of the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation, an established group with access to a global network of law firms, representing 24,000 lawyers in 100 countries.

Since the foundation began in 2006, critical pro bono legal services have been provided on more than 600 projects involving 300 social entrepreneurs.

The foundation is now looking to broaden their involvement in the U.S. social sector, using LawForChange as the core driver for the mission.

From providing state-specific information and hosting interactive blogs and discussion forms, to granting access to pro bono service providers, LawForChange is emerging as a tremendous force in the realm of social entrepreneurship.

"LawForChange can't replace the specific legal advice of a lawyer," Garber says, adding that it can, however, serve to help social entrepreneurs better understand their legal needs and challenges as well as educate and empower them with information.

ASU's Eric Menkhus, a clinical professor of law and the director of the Innovation Advancement Program, which provides low-cost legal help for students, encourages social entrepreneurs to network above all else and take advantage of online resources.

"It sounds like bland advice, but the best advice I can give is to network.  Innovators and social entrepreneurs should attend events where attorneys and other services providers will be," Menkhus says.

Greg Van Kirk, an Ashoka Lemelson Fellow and a well-known social entrepreneur, called the initiative incredibly valuable.

"Social entrepreneurs are continuously confronted with challenging legal issues such as how to incorporate earned revenue models, how to form mutually beneficial strategic partnerships, and what are the best means for protecting intellectual property whilst at the same time disseminating knowledge to scale impact," Van Kirk says. 

These are questions that require legal support; however, oftentimes social entrepreneurs neither have the time, connections nor resources to know where and how to find optimal solutions, he added.

"LawforChange could provide a tremendously helpful platform for essential professional support," Van Kirk says. 
Submitted by Kyle Patton, writer, Office of University Initiatives