The Road to a Successful Business
As part of the law school’s Small Business Legal Clinic, the Rural Program provides businesses in rural Oregon with access to expert legal services.
Since joining Lewis & Clark Law School in 2019, Shanna Knight has brought her commitment to helping people thrive to all manner of small businesses across rural Oregon.
“It’s so amazing to watch our clients succeed,” says Knight, a staff attorney with the Rural Program at the law school’s Small Business Legal Clinic. The program provides small business owners living in rural communities throughout Oregon with access to affordable legal services and advice. It’s helped many Oregonians and tribal citizens start and grow their businesses.
“We’re one tool in our clients’ toolbox, but it’s still really amazing to see them succeed and become more confident,” Knight says.
The Rural Program was created in 2019 in response to a need for more equitable access to legal services across the state. A number of groups provided input, from local chambers of commerce and the Oregon Native American Chamber to Latinx and rural community organizations. Seed funding was provided by the Ford Family Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Knight, who had volunteered with the Small Business Legal Clinic before taking on her current role, helps a wide range of clients, from financial services organizations to artists, from general contractors to nonprofits.
Most of her clients are experts in their fields, but they often need help with legal foundations for their businesses. The program has assisted clients with forming new businesses, designing contracts that protect their interests, and interpreting employment law and COVID-19 regulations. Knight works with around 65 clients each year. About 30 percent are Native-owned organizations.
“Tribal communities have always had amazing networks of trade, and their members have always been entrepreneurs. Our program provides a new way for these communities to access the U.S. legal system for their benefit,” says Knight.
One key to the program’s success with Native businesspeople has been its ability to build trust.
“I really enjoy serving tribal nations and community members,” explains Knight, who specialized in Indigenous law at law school and has worked for a number of tribal communities across the Pacific Northwest and in Washington, D.C. “For folks who are tribal citizens, there’s this really fraught history of people making promises and breaking them. We recognize and acknowledge this history and want to help our clients turn the system to their advantage wherever we can.”
Knight also enjoys working closely with L&C law students, who sit in on client meetings and assist with legal research. The most valuable experience for them is getting to meet with and help the program’s clients.
Maggie Powers JD ’21, who served as a research assistant for the Small Business Legal Clinic while in law school, helped a rural client who was facing lease negotiations during the COVID-19 pandemic. She found the experience to be “especially rewarding because it allowed me to assist small businesses to succeed in a tumultuous time.” Working with the program helps students see that the law is not passive, but instead can be something that is dynamic, something that forms in response to an immediate need.
“Tribal communities have always had amazing networks of trade, and their members have always been entrepreneurs. Our program provides a new way for these communities to access the U.S. legal system for their benefit.”
The Rural Program continues to grow, bringing important expertise to connect with the diverse communities in rural Oregon. In the near future, Knight says, Juliana Minn, who currently works in another Small Business Legal Clinic program, will join the team. She will focus on engaging with Oregon’s Latinx communities in English and Spanish.
In all of the programs of the Small Business Legal Clinic, client-centered lawyering is the focus. “Often a client calls their lawyer when everything has gone wrong,” she says. “But the Small Business Legal Clinic—and the Rural Program—is practicing a preventive kind of law. We’re helping people set up their businesses in ways to prevent problems down the road.”
Daniel F. Le Ray is an award-winning freelance writer and editor based in eastern Washington state.
SMALL BUSINESS LEGAL CLINIC
Client Profile: Artist Natalie Ball
The Art of Success
Artist Natalie Ball refers to her creations as “Power Objects.” Her striking sculptures incorporate multiple materials and textiles to create what she calls “narratives of Native American identity and experiences” that are more complex than those offered by traditional media. Ball, a citizen of the Klamath Tribes, is from the Modoc, Klamath, and Tahlequah Tribes and is Black. Her family was a part of the Black diaspora from rural Arkansas to the Pacific Northwest. Ball has exhibited work across the United States and internationally. Her art studio is in Chiloquin, Oregon, on her tribes’ ancestral homelands.
After graduating from the Yale School of Art, Ball soon found success in the art world. But this came with a realization: “Business became something that I had to know—and that was not taught in art school.”
First, Ball sought out the Oregon Native American Chamber; then, she was put in touch with the Rural Program, part of the law school’s Small Business Legal Clinic. The help she has received from staff attorney Shanna Knight and the Rural Program has enabled Ball to maintain a thriving studio art business in her small rural hometown.
“Having Shanna by my side whenever I need something has helped me with my confidence and with being out there in the world making moves and decisions,” Ball says. “I can’t explain how much it’s helped me to be successful and grow bigger than I thought I would in the last year.”