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Native American entrepreneurs have new resource in pro bono business law clinic

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MINNEAPOLIS – Best & Flanagan LLP, in collaboration with the American Indian Economic Development Fund and the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce, recently formed a Native American entrepreneur business law clinic.

The pro-bono clinic will offer free initial consultations beginning Nov. 13. Attorneys from Best & Flanagan’s business law and Native American law practice groups will provide on-the-spot counsel to help Native American entrepreneurs decide how to move forward with whatever business issues they are facing.

“We have modeled this after intake clinics. This will be like emergency room triage – we’ll look to spot any key issues and give quick and to-the-point advice so business owners can decide how to proceed,” said Lenor A. Scheffler, partner and chair of Best & Flanagan’s Native American Law Section and a member of the Business Law Section.

“A movement has been growing across the United States to incubate economic development in Indian country – from Article 9, to conferences by the Uniform Code Commissioners, to partnerships between the fed and a variety of universities for conferences and alliances. At Best & Flanagan, we know that helping individual entrepreneurs is a critical piece for spurring economic development in Indian country and our community’s economy in general. We think ensuring they are on the right track from the outset with legal structure, contracts, leases, and other business dealings is critical to their success. And for those business owners who are coming to us later in their paths – perhaps when they are ready to grow, or want to lease new space, or are caught in a contract that’s not working for them – we’ll be able to help them understand their options and make informed decisions.”

“Being a small business owner myself, I remember what it is like to start up a company,” said David Glass, AIEDF president, owner of Black Bear Crossings on Lake Como, and chair of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity. “Entrepreneurs have to wear a lot of different hats, and we think we can do this, so we might not do some of the research we should, especially getting professional help like tax or law guidance. Entrepreneurs might be a little intimidated and unsure of how much the professional counsel will cost. In addition, not many American Indian attorneys practice in the private sector, so some trust issues can exist. Then, all of a sudden, we have contracts and leases to sign, or we should have incorporated our business, or we need to get out of something. I see it so often: It is always better to get the legal exposure right away, to invest in getting the professional guidance so the new business is established correctly and protected.”

John Lee, chair of the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce and owner of Lee Manufacturing based in Fridley, said, “Our chamber members are going through much the same difficulties as everyone else in the country. Small businesses often don’t have access to this kind of resource, and frequently an entrepreneur doesn’t fully realize what he or she is getting into. Having a legal advisor on your side is a critical resource to have. Our members have a need for this business law clinic, and I see it as a great collaborative for all parties.”

“We believe now is the time to provide this resource to small and emerging businesses,” Glass said. “While so many big corporations have failed since the financial meltdown last fall, small businesses and micro-enterprises are still growing. However, they are fragile. We think one of the reasons that 85 percent of new businesses fail within the first year is they didn’t get set up correctly from the outset. Best & Flanagan is helping us change this outcome here in Minnesota for the Native community. They understand the need, they have the deep expertise in both business law and Native American law, which is a critical blend for our business owners, and they have the vision to see how this will make a difference.”

For the first six months, the clinic will be staffed the second Friday of each month, from noon – 1 p.m., at the AIEDFund, 831 Como Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55103. The AIEDF and the MAICC will publicize the new pro-bono clinic to their clients, members, and throughout Minnesota’s Native American communities. Attorneys will provide guidance on general business and governance, employee benefits and compensation, intellectual property/technology, taxation/nonprofit and tax exempt and employment.

For more information, call Best & Flanagan at (612) 339-7121.