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National transactional clinic conference hosted by College of Law

June 08, 2010

Clinical Professor Eric Menkhus and the College of Law hosted the 9th Annual Transactional Clinical Conference on Friday, April 30, at SkySong, the Arizona State University Scottsdale Innovation Center.

The conference was for directors of law-school clinics where students learn to assist small businesses and non-profit organizations with legal matters that they encounter on a daily basis. These include business and intellectual property transactions, and exchanges among parties that don’t involve litigation, Menkhus said.

In the world of clinical legal education, transactional clinics remain “the new kid on the block,” said Praveen Kosuri of Pennsylvania Law School, a conference panelist. But the Transactional Clinical Conference, which began nine years ago as an intimate conversation among the few clinical professors at a handful of law schools, is growing up, he said.

“The number of people under the tent has grown tremendously,” said Kosuri, Practice Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic at Penn Law. “Some of us focus on small business, other non-profits, some community economic development, and still others on innovators and technology. Yet we all are trying to use our clinics as vehicles to teach our students how to be good transactional lawyers.”

Thomas H. Morsch of Northwestern University School of Law said the best law schools around the country recognize the disconnect between lawyers and entrepreneurs, and are involved in teaching law students how to be problem solvers rather than ‘naysayers.’

“Lawyers and entrepreneurs make strange bed fellows,” said Morsch, Emeritus Professor of Law and Emeritus Director of the Small Business Opportunity Center at Northwestern. “Lawyers look ‘backwards’ at precedents while entrepreneurs look ‘forward’ to the launch of a new business or new product. Lawyers are generally conservative and risk-adverse while their clients are almost always optimistic and willing to take chances to achieve their goals.”

It isn’t enough for lawyers to know legal doctrines, without knowing how to apply them in real-world situations, relate to client needs and work with other professionals, he said.

“The spring conference and workshop at ASU was particularly successful in view of the law school’s commitment to real world, inter-disciplinary projects involving students from law, engineering and the graduate school of business, as well as the tech-transfer office and SkySong,” said Morsch, also a conference panelist. “It was quite obvious to all who attended that ASU is supportive of a cutting-edge approach to law-school education far beyond what law schools have traditionally offered to their students.”

The ASU conference included panels on using technology to improve communications among students, faculty, staff and clients, counseling non-profit and for-profit clients and the client characteristics that lead to effective clinical experiences.

“Most clinics have more demand than they have bandwidth, so they need to find a way to carefully select their clients,” he said.

The 45 participants also listened to experts talk about building and implementing strong pro bono relationships with local law firms, best practices for maintaining intellectual property and completing tax-exempt status documents for clients, and the pros and cons of working with high-growth clients.

“How much money can someone have, and you can still work with them?” Menkhus asked. “If using all their resources to pay their legal or consulting teams and then not having enough money to move their products or services forward would kill a business, I would view that business as someone I could work with. But other clinics work only with truly indigent clients.”

A presentation was made about eLaw (, an online tool sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation that has helpful information and materials dealing with entrepreneurship law. The Kauffman Foundation partially funds the College of Law’s Technology Ventures Services Group, a course for ASU graduate students in law, business, engineering and other disciplines who work in the Technology Ventures Legal Clinic or Technology Ventures Consulting.

Susan R. Jones, a Professor of Clinical Law and Director of the Small Business & Community Economic Development Clinic at George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., congratulated Menkhus on a successful clinic.

“As the co-host of last year’s conference I know how much work goes into the planning, and I’m particularly pleased that he continued the tradition we started at GW last year of breaking down silos and including intellectual property and community economic development clinicians as participants in the conference,” Jones said. “An important part of the conference is the interaction between panelists and participants, networking with colleagues and discussing various teaching techniques and best practices. Professor Menkhus’ leadership in hosting this conference has put ASU on the map in this important field.”

Entrepreneurs and non profit groups lacking access to capital have a unique set of needs and require a range of transactional legal services, Jones said. Conferences such as this one help clinic faculty become more familiar with those needs, she said.

“When I started teaching at GW in 1988, there were only a few law-school small business clinics, and today, there are more than 80 clinical programs engaged in aspects of transactional work,” she said. “It’s exciting to see new programs developing and growing.”

The ASU conference was one of the best Kosuri has attended, because the panels were thoughtful and well planned. Menkhus credited his assistant, Suzanne Lynn, with the organization, saying, “She did all the heavy lifting. I just picked topics and panelists.”

Noted Kosuri, “With more and more transactional clinics coming online every year, it’s great that those of us who have been doing this for awhile can share some of our experience with those just getting started. As a group, we need to continue to challenge ourselves in examining what we do and how we do it. These conferences are a great opportunity to do that.”

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law