Becoming Practice-ready in Denver Law’s Community Economic Development Clinic

Among the six clinics in Denver Law’s Student Law Office, the Community Economic Development Clinic (CEDC) provides something unique: the chance to practice transactional lawyering. Last year was the first for the CEDC. “The student and community response to the CEDC was fantastic,” reports Patience Crowder, the clinic’s director. “We completed a tremendously successful inaugural year during which our ten students, acting as sole or co-counsel, represented 16 clients on over 50 client matters.”

One student lawyer in the CEDC last year is Elizabeth Phillips (pictured above). She and her co-counsel Benjamin Glick represented a neighborhood association seeking to maximize an urban community’s participation in a proposed transit-oriented project affecting the community. An early hurdle, relates Elizabeth, was obtaining a signed engagement letter from the client. “You think that task is routine, “she says, “but in this instance it was far from simple. Four languages are spoken in the community. And the neighborhood association is not formally structured, so no one individual member officially speaks for it. There was a community organizer involved, but she was not a member of the neighborhood association. In the end, we needed to get approval for a resolution that authorized the organizer to act on behalf of the client and also authorized us to communicate with the organizer.”

With that agreement in hand, co-counsels Phillips and Glick began the work of communicating the concerns of their client, the neighborhood association, to the City Council, city planners and the Denver Housing Authority. They had to grasp the particular needs of the community in which their client operated, and they had to effectively communicate back to their client, in an accessible way, proposals put forth by city officials. “This is a key to community lawyering,” says Professor Crowder. “Whether the client is a non-profit entity or a for-profit business, the lawyer must understand what the client is trying to accomplish and also understand the community in which the client operates.”

Elizabeth Phillips’ second client, taken on her own, sought to start a small business. “I counseled her on entity selection, and I filed formation documents,” she explains. “Then we drafted a form contract for her suppliers. My client wanted it to be reader-friendly, and I had to make sure it protected my client. I also advised her on regulations put in place by the City of Denver.” For Elizabeth, the dichotomy provided by having a non-profit client and a business client was invaluable. “The two clients I worked with were so different. Between them, I experienced and dealt with a wide range of problems and situations.”

Supervision of student lawyers in the CEDC is provided by Professor Crowder and Whiting Clinical Fellow Eric Franklin. “They are very committed to helping us become effective lawyers,” according to Elizabeth. “As the year proceeds, we (the students) are able to go out further on our own, but they are always there to guide and critique us.” An especially beneficial exercise in the CEDC, she says, are “Firm Meetings,” where each student describes his or her work to the rest of the clinic participants. “It’s so helpful to get feedback from my fellow student lawyers. Because Professors Crowder and Franklin have adopted a law firm model for the clinic, we learn from each other about lawyering, and we also get accustomed to what we can expect when we take jobs after graduating.” -rw


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