1. Tell us a little about yourself and the educational or career path you took to get to where you are now?

As a senior in college I started a research project on holistic thinking and systems theory. I convinced all my professors to let me tie my assignments into that theme and I got to be a little obsessed. Whenever I would get stuck, and need some inspiration, I would go volunteer on a farm started by friends. All my best ideas came to me there, while weeding and harvesting. I met several people with legal questions related to their farms and food businesses, and I thought, ‘I bet I could help them if I went to law school.’

I heard about a new Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, applied to Vermont Law School, and spent my three years there focused on food systems and agriculture. Afterwards, the LL.M. program in Agriculture and Food Law at the University of Arkansas offered me a full ride and a paid position through which I was glad to learn about another part of the country. In March, I joined the Agrarian Trust as a legal fellow coordinating the Agrarian Lawyers’ Network. I returned to Vermont after the LL.M. program in-person component, and opened a solo law practice for farmers and food businesses, with an environmental sustainability angle.

2. What specifically drew you to working with social enterprises and democratically-led organizations, such as cooperatives?

Egalitarian organizations tend to bring forth the best solutions, since they are as Donella Meadows said, designed around the principle of feedback. For an equitable world, we need equitable organizations, and people who are empowered to participate. Studying the food system, I find that the cooperative model tends to have the best outcome for workers, communities and natural systems.

3. What do you find to be the most challenging about being a lawyer [or law student, legal apprentice, or other legal...

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Written by Elizabeth L. Carter of Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center

“The creation of a new housing cooperative in Newark will benefit from an institution that seeks to empower tenants rather than simply serving them. This requires a rethinking on the role of nonprofits, tenant associations, and government in the pursuit of cooperative development.”  -Housing Cooperative Part II: The Collective Effort

Historically, cooperatives were organically created through grassroots efforts. They were created simply through the mobilization and organization of similarly situated people with a common cause to share and exchange resources for their mutual benefit. This is especially true among historically marginalized groups where such members brought their resources together to provide necessary goods and services to the community in the face of “racial segregation, racial discrimination, and market failure.[1] However, cooperative development has sophisticated overtime, such as through legal structures that now define and regulate them. This includes the Private Housing Finance Law of New York which defines, regulates, and financially supports limited equity housing cooperatives in response to significant grassroots developments of tenant-controlled buildings throughout  New York City.[2] Likewise, the State of New Jersey adopted its Cooperative Recording Act in 1987 which regulates housing cooperatives due to “cooperative corporations and other cooperative legal entities...becoming a popular practice in New Jersey.” In general, local governmental support of cooperatives has expanded over the years towards financial and programmatic support. Examples include New York City’s approval of $1.2 million out of its budget for worker cooperative...

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As a member of the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, I have volunteered to be the Idaho representative to the Sustainable Livestock Policy Initiative (the “Initiative”). The Initiative aims to expand regenerative livestock production in the United States by organizing producers around the nation to reform agricultural policy in the 2018 Farm Bill. What follows is a description of the developing effort and how you or your organization(s) can get involved.

Team, purpose, and goals: The group is led by: Friends of the Earth, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Dakota Rural Action, Rural Advancement Foundation International, Friends of Family Farmers, Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future, Vermont Law School, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Initiative is focused on creating a solutions-based narrative about improving federal policy to support producers as they meet increasing consumer demand for more humane and sustainable meat, eggs and dairy. The narrative will focus on how these policies can also help sequester carbon, build healthy soil, reduce water use and contamination, protect biodiversity, and improve animal welfare and human/animal/environmental health.  The Initiative is messaging the goals as follows:

  • New policies, initiatives, and...

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Application Due Date Extended

What is the Next Legal Network Writer in Residence Program?

The Next Legal Network Writer in Residence program consists of a small group of columnists who write monthly articles for the Next Legal Network Blog (at nextlegal.org). Next Legal Network Writers in Residence must be lawyers, law students, legal apprentices, or other legal workers who are committed to generating economies, communities, and legal systems that:

  • Empower all people to participate democratically in the management of resources critical to their lives, including jobs, energy, housing, and natural resources;

  • Resist the destructive qualities of profit maximization, racism, and inequality; and

  • Nourish people and ecosystems in the long term.

The Next Legal Network Writer in Residence is an unpaid program. A Writer in Residence will commit to writing one article per month for their column from March 2017 through December 2017. The Next Legal Network is currently in beta, but will be opened to the public in spring 2017. Next Legal Network Writers in Residence will be invited to join the network before it is officially opened to the public.

What is the Next Legal Network?

Next Legal is a network that serves as an online community for lawyers, law students, legal apprentices, and other legal workers who can assist in establishing cooperatives, land trusts, enterprises, and organizations that create locally-owned and sustainable sources of food, healthcare, energy, housing, transportation, and work. Members are able to connect, learn, share resources, grow their visibility, and strengthen the legal foundations of the next economy.

...

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Written by Elizabeth L. Carter of Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center

Now the question becomes: how to empower people to become accountable to and engaged leaders within their community through a housing cooperative?Housing Cooperative Part I: Beyond Bricks and Mortar

By 1984, New York City became the de-facto landlord of 26,000 rental units due to widespread neglect and abandonment of 4,000 buildings by private landlords.[1] The City of New York then became the largest slumlord within the city as mass landlord neglect and abandonment became unmanageable for the city.[2]  Meanwhile, thousands of tenants organized themselves and began picking up the pieces where landlord abandonment and city mismanagement left off. Tenants collectively managed and repaired neglected housing for themselves.[3] After all, they had to live there. The city was so glad to hand over management  to the tenants that it created a housing cooperative program designed to train tenants to be managers and owners of their building.[4] The most successful cooperatives were those that had strong tenant associations prior to conversion.[5] This is because tenant associations allowed tenants to gain experience in operating and making decisions together around housing issues. A a result, highly organized tenants with great tenacity to make positive changes in the community developed.  

Fast forward about thirty (30) years later and about fifteen (15) minutes across the Hudson River and you will find the City of Newark, having all the necessary ingredients to brew housing cooperatives, and yet, only a few have emerged since the 1960s. And even fewer still operate today. [6] This article tells the tale of two (potential) housing cooperatives in Newark. I will call...

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Written by Elizabeth L. Carter of Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center

Housing is the premier tool for building communities—both physically through bricks and mortar and ecologically through the people living within them. However, going beyond the bricks and mortar of housing and towards the development of the people within them is an intentional act and requires an emphasis on empowering people rather than merely making a profit. I found early on in my law school career that housing cooperatives were ideal for doing just that. For instance, housing cooperatives have the ability to provide long-term affordable housing while also reducing crime, promoting civic engagement, and advancing economic and social sustainability.[1] This housing form allows for democratic control and decision-making by those that use it the most: the residents.

This is important because it changes the way we think of power: instead of the usual imbalance of power that is inherently found within the landlord-tenant structure, the housing cooperative model seeks to balance out this difference in power by making the tenant and the landlord one in the same as a tenant-shareholder. This is critical, especially where the tenant will then be in a position to participate in the management and decision-making of his or her own living arrangement, one of the most basic, but important human rights. Furthermore, the landlord (i.e. the cooperative that owns the real estate) is more likely to charge reasonable rents and make necessary repairs since the landlord is composed of individual shareholders who are also tenants that will directly benefit from such.  With all the benefits that go beyond brick and mortar of a housing cooperative, it seems that it would be the ideal housing type for developing sustainable communities.  However, this is not the prevailing view in New Jersey.

As a...

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Written by Kelsey Jae Nunez, Kelsey Jae Nunez, LLC

Several times during this year’s Fellows Week for Sustainable Economies Law Fellows, our growing group of sharing economy lawyers discussed how we can  be accessible to our community, attract meaningful and rewarding client relationships, and meet our own financial needs. Many of us were intrigued by the idea of subscription services - where lawyers charge clients a monthly fee that includes a certain menu of services like unlimited phone calls and document review. This system could create a steady monthly income for the lawyers and predictable monthly bills for the client. And ideally, it would lead to deeper relationships with clients who feel more in control of their legal issues.

When I got home, I floated this idea around and received great feedback. I dug into the ethical issues and the existing models and recently announced my own Legal Coaching Subscription Service. What follows is a list of recommendations based on what I learned and how I structured my program.

  1. Decide what types of clients are eligible for the service and reserve the right to decline requests to subscribe. As I was analyzing my decision to offer up to 10 hours of legal services for $150 a month, I could hear the skeptical voices telling me that I was undervaluing myself or opening the door to being taken advantage of. These risks are real, so I think it is okay to limit eligibility to the types of people you are trying to help. I chose to limit my plan to individuals and organizations committed to sustainability or focused on social enterprise, cooperative culture, and/or the sharing economy. I did not include more specific definitions of those terms, but...

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Written by Will Pasley

So here are some of the basics.  In California, apprentices must pass the First Year Law Students' Exam (FYLSE) after their first year of being an apprentice.  It is a 7 hour, one day test composed of 4 hours of essays and 3 hours of multiple-choice.  The test is offered twice a year and covers contracts, criminal law, and torts.

The questions are very similar to bar questions, so you can use bar prep books to help you study for the exam.  Many newly minted-lawyers are happy to give their copies away to awesome apprentices.  The California Bar also publishes old FYLSE questions you can practice with.  Below are a few strategies that I recommend people use while studying for the baby bar.

  1. Practice.  If you do nothing else, practice.  Like most standardized tests, you have to learn the test to be able to do well.  You can know the law in and out, but if you don’t know the test you will not pass.  Practice is the way to learn the test, you will start to see patterns and you will improve immensely as you practice.  Start practicing right away, do not feel like you need to memorize the law before you practice.  Practicing will help you learn and remember the law.  When you start your apprenticeship, I suggest doing one essay (one hour), and an hour of multiple choice (33 questions, 1.8 minutes per question) every week.  Take your time and look up law you don’t understand.  The bar prep outline books are really helpful for looking up clear and concise explanations of the law.  You will do poorly at first, but don’t sweat it.  Getting things wrong will help you remember it in the future.  Miss questions now so that you will get them right later on.  As you get closer to the test, practice more.  About two months out, I would suggest a minimum of outlining one essay a day (15 minutes to outline) and do 10 multiple choice a day (18...

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Written by Sam Gray

It’s no secret that rent in many large U.S. cities is skyrocketing. While some may see this as an example of a thriving economy, others are left wondering whether they will have a future in the cities they were born in or have grown to love.

Change on some level is inevitable. People move apartments. Stores close and other businesses move in. As those changes happen, though, we need to make sure that everyone who is invested in those cities and communities has a seat at the decision making table.

For a long time, the conversation about the changing urban landscape has been driven by real estate developers. Their financial investment in cities is clear and significant, which is perhaps one of the reasons why they have had such a powerful voice in deciding how cities are built. However, there are other ways that someone can be invested in a city. The individuals that live in those communities are invested socially, emotionally, culturally, and of course financially in the continued health and vibrancy of their city. Their voices, however, are too often left out of the conversation of how their city will change.

While not perfect and still relatively new on the real estate landscape, investment cooperatives are gaining attention as an option for communities that want to take control of their own local economies. Since 2011, the Northeastern Investment Cooperative (“NEIC”) has organized over 100 community members in Minneapolis, Minnesota to purchase property and rent it out to a local brewery and bakery. Similarly, since organizing in 2003, the Riverwest Investment Cooperative (“RIC”) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been raising money from the community and providing loans to community businesses to help them succeed.

While still in its organizing phase, the New York City Real...

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Written by Elizabeth L. Carter of Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center

In its attempt to create its first cooperative in a place where the term “cooperative” is vaguely understood, the Urban Cooperative Enterprise Legal Center (UCELC) launched its Cooperative Academy. After conducting various presentations on cooperative enterprises, it made sense to create a structured educational platform, such as a Cooperative Academy, that promotes cooperative enterprises, equips participants with tools for starting a cooperative, and provides a structured collaborative environment for participants to come together as a unit.

A Cooperative Academy is an effective way to introduce the cooperative business model to interested parties where it allows for active learning, practical exercises, and collaboration that prepare participants to become a cohesive unit. Creating the format of the Academy is the first step. Thereafter, an appropriate curriculum can be formed. The format and curriculum of a Cooperative Academy varies. For instance, the Cooperative Academy of Green Workers Cooperatives in Bronx, New York is a five (5) month long training and support program focused on worker cooperatives that aspire to make positive environmental impacts.[1] Worcester Roots in Massachusetts has a ten (10) week Academy that provides entrepreneurial training and mentorship to a variety of sustainable cooperative businesses, including youth cooperatives.[2] Similarly, Colors Cooperative Academy in Michigan is divided into three (3) phases including a thirteen (13) week course in phase I describing general cooperative, business, and legal principles, and phase III launching a worker-owned food business.[3] Like Colors, Project Equity has a thirteen (13) week course, but unlike Colors, where the Academy is focused only on worker-owned food businesses, Project...

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