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Big Help for Small Businesses

With 95 percent of Portland businesses employing fewer than 50 workers, small businesses are the backbone of Portland’s economy. But until recently, there were no coordinated legal services in Oregon dedicated to serving the needs of small, low-income, and minority entrepreneurs. Enter a woman with a vision: Lisa LeSage, assistant dean and director of business law programs at Lewis & Clark Law School. LeSage has organized a law clinic to serve small-business clients in distressed areas that could not otherwise afford legal help. The Small Business Legal Clinic opened its doors in downtown Portland on October 5.

“The Small Business Legal Clinic is a powerful example of how public-private collaboration and a passion for economic justice can create a much-needed resource for marginalized communities, while simultaneously providing valuable education to future lawyers,” says LeSage.

After obtaining funding commitments from three major Portland law firms–Tonkon Torp, Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, and Stoel Rives–and from the Portland Business Alliance and Bank of the West, LeSage approached the Portland mayor’s office and the Portland Development Commission and suggested a public-private partnership between the city and Lewis & Clark. The clinic received a $100,000 grant from the city and reduced-cost office space from the Portland Development Commission in its building on the corner of Northwest Fifth and Everett streets in downtown Portland.

LeSage believes the clinic to be the only business law clinic in the country that has a coordinated pro bono component certified by a state bar, as well as funding by a city, a chamber of commerce, business, and major law firms.

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