Eager to incorporate his after-school program for Providence teens, STEAM Box, as a nonprofit, Roberto Gonzalez has discovered that getting legal advice through a university law clinic can be a good place to start.
Steve Sokolov, one of four students gaining practical experience in Roger Williams University’s new Community and Economic Development Law Clinic, has been helping tailor articles of incorporation for Gonzalez’s organization.
“Some of this is new for me,” said Gonzalez of East Providence, whose after-school programming at Alvarez High School focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, the so-called “STEAM” subjects. “I’m a consultant, engaging youth and team building for teachers. These are my skill sets, and I feel like I’m a master. But starting a nonprofit, I don’t feel like a master. Working with these guys, they are my watchdogs.”
The work is a challenge, adds Sokolov, a third-year law student, who will graduate this spring.
“We’re picking apart his articles of incorporation and bylaws to make sure it fits with his needs and the criteria of the Internal Revenue Service and the statutes,” he said.
Researching options and then presenting the client with them is different than many people’s image of a lawyer directing a client and arguing on his or her behalf in a courtroom, say Sokolov and associate clinical professor of law Gowri J. Krishna, who runs the clinic.
Criminal defense and other types of educational law clinics have been around since the 1960s, but the community and economic-development model didn’t come into its own until the 1990s, Krishna said. Contrary to the prevailing perception, only about half of the country’s lawyers engage in litigation; the other half practices transactional law, advising clients in an office setting, she said.
“What we do is listen to them and draw out of them their intention,” Sokolov said of his work with Gonzalez and other clients. “That’s a big difference between what attorneys do in the courtroom.” STEAM Box has been getting attention from potential educational clients in other states, Gonzalez said, so the clinic is helping him craft appropriate bylaws.