Small Business & Community Economic Development Clinic

The Small Business and Community Economic Development Clinic provides legal assistance to small businesses, social enterprises, nonprofit organizations, and artists. Under faculty supervision, students interview, advise, counsel and represent entrepreneurs and businesses and assist nonprofit organizations committed to improving the welfare of individuals and communities. Specific cases may involve drafting articles of incorporation, bylaws, articles of organization, operating agreements, or partnership agreements; researching local licensing requirements and zoning laws; reviewing and drafting contracts and leases; preparing applications for federal tax exemption; advising and counseling  business founders and corporate boards; and advising clients on basic intellectual property issues, tax matters, and related legal issues.

Through the USPTO’s Law School Clinic Certification Pilot program students may apply for certification to file trademark applications while enrolled in the clinic.  Through classwork and casework, students examine substantive business law, social entrepreneurship and community economic development, the role of small business in providing economic opportunity for under-capitalized and under-represented entrepreneurs, and develop transactional legal skills.  Students may also participate in law and policy action research projects. 

Small Business & Community Economic Development Clinic Client Testimonials

Dana Tai Soon Burgess
Founding Director, Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company

Brandon Zimmerman, PhD
Optical Physicist

Serena Ferguson, Greyson Mann, and Patricia Stamper
Friends of the DC Streetcar

Professor of Clinical Law and Faculty Supervisor, Susan R. Jones

Susan R. Jones is a Professor of Clinical Law and a member of the full-time faculty at The George Washington University Law School. Since 1988 she has been Director and Supervising Attorney of the Small Business & Community Economic Development Clinic (SBCED Clinic). She is an active member of the District of Columbia Bar having served as Vice-Chair to the DC Bar (CED) Pro Bono Project Advisory Committee. She was a 2006 Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and in 2003–2004 she was the Haywood Burns Visiting Chair in Civil Rights at the City University of New York School of Law at Queens College.

Professor Jones was the 2006 chair of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Clinical Legal Education and she served on the executive committee of that section and as chair of the Section on Africa. She was a member of the AALS Standing Committee on Clinical Legal Education and is a former chair of the AALS Section on Poverty Law. She also served on the Executive Committee of the AALS Section on Transactional Law and Skills and as co-chair of the Transactional Clinics Committee of the AALS Clinical Section.

In addition to her work with the AALS, Professor Jones has held numerous leadership positions in the American Bar Association (ABA) including service on the governing committee of ABA Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, editor-in-chief and senior editor of the ABA Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law and co-chair of the Forum’s Legal Educators’ Practice Division. She is a co-founder and past co-chair of the Community Economic Development Committee of the ABA Section on Business Law and she served on the ABA Business Law Education Committee as well as on the ABA Commission on Homelessness and Poverty.

Professor Jones was a Fannie Mae Foundation Fellow, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government (2002) and is a member of Leadership Washington class of 1996.

Her scholarly pursuits include numerous published articles in the field of community economic development and small business. She is the author of A Legal Guide to Microenterprise Development (ABA Publishing) and co-editor of Building Healthy Communities: A Guide to Community Economic Development for Advocates, Lawyers and Policymakers. Professor Jones was awarded Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award for distinctive service to the greater Washington, DC creative community and for 20 years of service on the WALA Board of Directors. In addition to her scholarly and practical work in transactional law, small business, community economic development, microenterprise development, and social entrepreneurship, Professor Jones has research interests in community economic development, international/comparative entrepreneurship and community economic development, nonprofit organizations and charitable giving, minority entrepreneurship, arts and entertainment, the creative economy, social entrepreneurship and social impact investing.

The SBCED Clinic gives students the opportunity to translate theory into practice. Students gain experience in client interviewing and counseling, developing legal judgment, and other lawyering skills such as corporate and contract drafting, and legal negotiation. Students learn about all phases of small business development from creating business plans and financing options as well as the many regulatory and tax requirements imposed on small businesses by the federal, state, and local governments. Students write legal memoranda, conduct legal research, draft articles of incorporation, bylaws, and contracts, and file trademark applications. Past Clinic students have enjoyed the experience and some have even started their own businesses and reconsidered how to operate existing businesses.

Students are selected based on their potential to provide high quality, client-centered legal services to small businesses, nonprofit organizations, artists, and social enterprises. Faculty will consider a student's interest in and commitment to public interest transactional work and the importance of teamwork and collaboration in law practice. Faculty aim to select a class with different backgrounds, experiences, and interests, but also a common desire to serve clients and gain lawyering experience.

Every semester, the Clinics hold an Open House where faculty are available to answer questions about their respective clinics. Students may also contact Professor Jones to discuss the Clinic or ask specific questions.

Eligibility Requirements

  • 2L and 3L students are eligible to apply. 
  • Prerequisites: Law 6250 (Corporations) and Law 6300 (Federal Income Tax); may not be taken concurrently
  •  Recommended: Law 6472 (Copyright) and 6474 (Unfair Competition & Trademark Law).

For more information, and to apply, please login to the Portal.  Application materials are posted approximately one month prior to the registration period for the following semester.

The Clinic is designed to meet two important needs:

1. To provide current law students interested in business law with a clinical program that will expose them to the practical and substantive legal problems of counseling small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

2. To offer much needed legal advice to segments of the small business community in the DC metropolitan area. Clients are seen by appointment only.

Since 1977, the Clinic has provided free start-up legal services to Washington, DC area entrepreneurs, nonprofit groups, and artists including short-term counseling in a broad range of business maters such as corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, contracts, commercial lease review and basic intellectual property law (e.g., trademark and copyright).

The Clinic also provides direct legal assistance, counseling, representation, and informational materials to new and existing nonprofit organizations and groups whose mission is to help low- income individuals and communities pursue economic empowerment and self-help initiatives. Through its historical relationship with Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts (WALA), the Clinic also represents individual artists and groups (e.g., musicians, dance and theatre companies, and film and video makers). The clinic has also helped WALA with law and policy research.

How the Clinic Accepts Cases:

The Clinic is a free service and one of only a few small business legal clinics in the DC area. Most of the Clinic’s clients are microbusinesses comprising of 1-5 persons with less than $50,000 in start-up capital. The Clinic’s services are in high demand and it handles a limited number of carefully selected cases each semester by appointment only.

We choose clients according to a range of factors which include the variety in our case load, the number of clients we already represent, and the complexity of the client’s case. Preference is given to clients who have developed a business model canvas or business plan. If we are unable to help a client in a given semester, we may be able to place the client on a wait list so that they may be assisted the following semester or refer the client to another legal resource.

The services provided by the Clinic take place during the George Washington University Law School’s academic year (i.e., from September through April of each year). The Clinic does not accept new cases in the summer.

Legal Services Provided:

  • Drafting Articles of Incorporation
  • Drafting Bylaws for Corporations (for profit and non-profit)
  • Creating Limited Liability Companies
  • Reviewing Leases
  • Conducting Legal Research on Specific Problems
  • Business Licenses and Permits
  • Trademark and Copyright Applications 
  • Contract Drafting and Contract Review
  • Application for 501c3 Federal Tax-Exemption Status

The Clinic does not handle litigation. Additionally, the Clinic does not draft business plans, engage in financial negotiations, develop loan packages, or prepare tax returns. For these types of services, we recommend that clients seek the services of an accountant or tax advisor.

To Obtain Representation:

Please contact the Clinic to talk to someone about your business needs or by sending an email to [email protected]

The client must complete an application before he or she is eligible for consideration:

Application for Legal Assistance  [pdf]    

The clinic requires all prospective clients to attend an initial consultation in our office before we will accept a case. After the initial consultation, the director in conjunction with the students who conducted the interview, will make a decision on whether the clinic can accept the case. A prospective client will be notified by telephone, email or U.S. mail of our decision. Whether or not we can accept a case depends on a variety of factors such as the complexity of the case, the size and variety in our case load, and whether the client has a business model canvas or business plan.

The Client's Role:

Once a case has been accepted, the client is responsible for filing all legal papers with the appropriate government agency and paying any filing fees. The Clinic will prepare a Retainer Agreement with the client, specifying the scope of legal work to be completed. Clients agree to be represented by law students working under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Due to the educational nature of the Clinic, the client is expected to commit to actively engaging in the legal assistance process by maintaining communication with the Clinic students assigned to their case with corrections or feedback, and attending scheduled Clinic meetings or calling the Clinic or the student(s) assigned to their case if they should need to cancel a scheduled meeting. We reserve the right to end our relationship with the client if he or she is not complying with our requests for information or neglects to contact us when they cannot attend a scheduled meeting.

Legal services are provided on a short-term basis. We will keep the information clients discuss with us confidential. However, there may be instances where we will seek the client's permission to share information for the client's benefit with other organizations such as loan programs or the media. Cases will be discussed by students enrolled in the course and with the supervising attorney.

The clinic cannot serve as ongoing legal counsel for a business. Draft or final documents can usually be delivered within several weeks, depending on the complexity of the case and the client's diligence and attention to the case.

Clients are seen by appointment only. Please contact the SBCED Clinic to talk to someone about your business needs.

Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics
2000 G Street, NW Suite 200
Washington, DC 20052
Fax: 202.994.4946
[email protected]


SBCED Brochure