1. Tell us a little about yourself and the educational or career path you took to get to where you are now?
About 10 years ago I realized that communities need smart attorneys to handle transactional (i.e. non-court-based) legal work and advise them about complex legal concepts – not only entity formation and governance, but also Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, for instance, which are the most complicated section of the federal tax code. This realization happened when I was a student in a community economic development law clinic. We were advising a group about forming a community development bank or credit union (highly regulated entities). I caught the community economic development law clinic bug and now direct a community economic development law clinic in the Capital Region of the New York State—I have my dream job.
2. What specifically drew you to working with social enterprises and democratically-led organizations, such as cooperatives?
It is about access to justice. If only large companies or wealthy individuals have access to an attorney then the legal profession is not serving society. Small businesses, whether social enterprises, democratically-led cooperatives, and neighborhood institutions need quality legal advice too. Small businesses in particular are the engines of economic growth – not large companies. Even though public policy clearly favors big business. Small, democratically-led firms play key roles in our social and economic life.
3. What do you find to be the most challenging about being a lawyer [or law student, legal apprentice, or other legal professional]?
When most people meet with a lawyer it is usually because something bad happened – a divorce, a death, a lawsuit. We need to make the case that lawyers can help people avoid disputes through advance planning. Lawyers need to demonstrate value and that can be a challenge.
4. What do love most about being a lawyer [or law student, legal apprentice, or other legal professional]?
Being able to speak a language that at its best can make society more democratic, more equitable, and more fair.
5. What are some of the needs you see in your community that you are hoping to address through your work?
Income inequality across the country continues to increase. It is harder for poor people to advance economically. Access to basic services like education, healthcare, and employment, is increasingly difficult because of lack of affordable transportation and affordable housing. I hope we are able to help our clients address these issues through their great work.
6. What, if anything, would you change about the legal profession or legal community if you were in charge?
There should be a right to counsel in civil matters like eviction and other disputes. It is shameful that poor tenants can be evicted without counsel. It harms our legal system.
And we need better depictions of transactional lawyers on tv.
7. Who is your ideal client or what is your ideal project?
One where individuals are turning their lives around – using collective action to further a small business, or using creativity to market a new product or service.
8. What do you like to do when you are not practicing law [studying, or working]?
Anything that makes my one-year-old son laugh or smile.
9. What are your “go to” resources and current sources of inspiration you can share with the Next Legal community?
I read Bryan Stevenson’s book "Just Mercy" recently. That is at the top of the list. Your readers should read it if they have not already.