UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — This fall, the Penn State Law Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic (EAC) launched an Underserved Small Businesses (USB) legal services program, which targets entrepreneurs who are generally categorized as socially and economically disadvantaged. The program is an extension of the existing EAC program, adding targeted educational outreach to qualifying entrepreneurs including people of color, women, people with disabilities, veterans, rural residents, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
"We are not aware of any pro bono legal clinic for small-business services in the United States that has the scope and scale of the Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic, and we are not aware of any pro bono legal clinic whatsoever in the United States that has the targeted mission of our new USB Legal Services Program,” said Britani Peterson, staff attorney and leader of the USB Program. “If the USB Program is a success, we believe that it could be used as a template that could be adopted by law schools throughout the United States as a means of providing clinical education for their students and supporting the communities in which they are located.”
Penn State Law offers two cost-free legal clinics to Pennsylvania entrepreneurs — the EAC and the Intellectual Property Clinic (IPC). The IPC is able to provide IP services related to patents, trademarks, trade secrets and copyrights. The EAC offers counseling, document drafting and negotiation assistance to startups and small businesses which otherwise would be unable to afford traditional legal assistance.
In addition to providing the services that it has regularly offered startups and early-stage businesses, the EAC now also assists the populations that would be considered “socially and economically disadvantaged” with navigating the various governmental and corporate programs that offer investments, loans, and preferred-supplier arrangements to USBs.
Peterson said this is a critical service because people who are eligible for these programs don’t normally have access to legal assistance for the application process, which often can make all the difference in determining whether the government and state resources are granted.
“We have started speaking with various economic development groups and expect to see a big demand for our USB-related services in South Central PA, Northwest PA, and Northeast PA,” said Peterson. “Although there are many USBs in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas, we believe that the need for our services is greater in the less-urbanized areas because the big cities have more law firms that are willing to provide pro bono services.”
Currently, 18 students at Penn State Law at University Park staff the clinics, with three full-time attorneys supervising. Since fall of 2018, the EAC and IPC combined have served over 2,000 pro bono clients, and the EAC has helped form 900 new companies.
“The growth of the EAC in the past year alone is truly astounding and proves just how needed our pro bono services are across the state,” said Tom Sharbaugh, director of the EAC. “Each year, our clients have increased by 60%, and we’re on track this year to have served over 950 new clients in 2021, making up almost half of our total clients served in the past three years. The new USB program will only help us continue to grow and expand our client base in 2022.”
Although physically located at the Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank in downtown State College, the EAC serves all of Pennsylvania through videoconferencing.
Potential clients who are interested in obtaining services from the EAC or the IPC should submit an intake form via the appropriate link below:
- Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic — EAC application for services
- Intellectual Property Clinic — IP Clinic application for services
This program is supported by Invent Penn State, a commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success.