Smart:ME Program Benefits Atlanta-Based Entrepreneurs and Tax Students
The Start Micro-Entrepreneur Accelerator Program (Start:ME) is an intensive 14-week accelerator program for micro-entrepreneurs (businesses with up to four employees) in the Clarkston and East Lake Atlanta communities. The program also enables Cass Brewer’s tax students to gain experience working with clients on a pro bono basis.
The program helps businesses—ranging from those providing insurance services to soccer clubs—become successful by providing support in business training, mentorship support and early-stage financing.
Brewer, associate professor of law, viewed the program as a great opportunity for his Corporate and Partnership Taxation students to gain experience outlining legal implications of starting a small business and identifying potential problem areas.
“The Start:ME program is great for students in several ways: improving presentation and communication skills, simulating attorney-client interactions, discovering that what we learn in the classroom is both practical and important to entrepreneurs, and the positive feelings that come with giving back.” Brewer said. “When I look across the room during the Start Me sessions with my students, I see nothing but smiles. That tells me that everyone—especially me—benefits from this experience.”
Cassandra S. Bradford (J.D./M.B.A. ’15) volunteered to participate at Brewer’s request to get experience working with individuals in the community who needed preliminary legal advice.
“It was interesting to hear the concerns and issues facing the various entrepreneurs. I enjoyed adding value by providing advice that was hopefully insightful and caused them to start thinking of different concepts they may not have considered,” Bradford said.
Participating students gave presentations and conducted short skits acting out various legal pitfalls the entrepreneurs could run into based on what they knew about their businesses.
“One entrepreneur was starting a residential and commercial moving business, so we came with the idea of moving a law firm and because of an accident during the move the company loses or damages all of the firm files and equipment,” said John David Gifford (J.D. ’15). “The company was potentially liable, not just for the damaged equipment but also the firm’s loss of income because they couldn’t conduct business because of the lost files.”
Through the skit, students pointed out the potential extent of liability beyond what one might expect and the importance of forming an entity (LLC or corporation) to shield personal assets from any company liabilities. Gifford said participants were grateful for the students’ insight and help.
“I think we opened their eyes to the hidden pitfalls that are out there and hopefully we were able to point out some of the bigger ones and how they may be able to avoid them,” Gifford said. “There is little pro bono legal assistance, that I am aware of, to help people with the type of business legal issues that the program participants might face.
“Few, if any, of these entrepreneurs could afford legal advice as they get their businesses going,” Gifford said. “I feel fortunate to have been able to do what I could to help them succeed. Also, It was nice trying to help people avoid legal problems before they came up instead of helping them after a problem had already arisen.”
Michael P. Williams (J.D. ’13) participated in the program for two years.
“This is such a unique and impactful program, and I was eager to help out,” Williams said. “I saw motivated minds absorb new information and implement their business plans and strategy with the new skills and knowledge they acquired, which was amazing. It also was an excellent way to practice my skills as a future lawyer and counselor.”
Gifford also felt the experience helped prepare him for interacting with clients after law school.
“It is one thing to know the law and be able to explain what the law is to another law student, a professor or an attorney. It’s something completely different to break down a complicated legal concept and explain it to someone with no legal background,” he said. “If you can’t effectively communicate with your client, you’re not going to be able to effectively advise them. I can think of several occasions during my first year of practice where I had to use that skill, and it was certainly beneficial to get that kind of practice during law school.”
Overall, Gifford feels fortunate to have gained practical experience and credits Brewer for identifying the opportunity for students interested in transactional/corporate work.
“Professor Brewer’s participation in the program and bringing it to the attention of students is a terrific example of what’s great about Georgia State Law and why I feel so lucky to have gone there,” Gifford said. “The professors are experts in their field and take time to go out and find opportunities for students to better themselves personally and professionally.”