June 19, 2020

Legal clinic moves online without a hitch

UCalgary Law’s Business Venture Clinic continues to serve entrepreneurs during pandemic shutdown

When classes in the Faculty of Law were forced online in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, one course didn’t require much work to shift to the new reality. While the Borden Ladner Gervais Business Venture Clinic could no longer hold office hours or set up in co-working spaces around town, the work of helping entrepreneurs and startups in Calgary continues.

“The truth is that it’s not very hard to move the clinic online,” says professor Bryce Tingle, QC, clinic director and N. Murray Edwards Chair in Business Law. “After initial meetings with clients in the early stages, nearly everything else happens online — drafting documents, sending them to mentors for feedback, and sending final versions on to clients. So it didn’t take a lot of work to move to an online offering.”

The biggest shift that needed to happen was to increase the clinic’s visibility online, so potential clients could still connect with students since they could no longer wander in to the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking on a Friday morning.

Second-year student Heather Taskey is working in the clinic for the summer and says the shutdown actually came at a fortunate time for the clinic.

“When classes moved online, it came at the end of the semester when students were actually wrapping up their work for clients,” says Taskey. “Now we’re taking this opportunity to explore options to improve our website and increase our social media presence.”

People are still innovating

But innovation doesn’t stop, especially when people have more time on their hands to explore their entrepreneurial side, so Taskey, along with classmate Duncan Pardoe, has been quite busy this summer.

“We’re focusing a lot on improving our client channels, to ensure we can serve as many startups as possible,” explains Pardoe. “Many of our clients come to us through our partnerships with Innovate Calgary, Platform Calgary, and others, but we often had initial contact with them through our walk-in office hours with the Hunter Hub. Now we need to find ways to continue to secure, and potentially increase, opportunities to connect with entrepreneurs in the online space.”

In fact, the shift to an increased online service offering could help the clinic expand its offerings outside of Calgary.

“We’ve always been open to working with clients outside of Calgary, and we’ve had a few clients from outside the city in the past,” says Tingle. “However, historically, the main channels that we get clients from are through the UCalgary community or from our partner channels, so mostly clients have been local.  A better online presence should permit us to assist entrepreneurs throughout the province.”

However, the Business Venture Clinic holds another advantage.

“We don’t have a lot of competition in offering free legal services in the province,” says Tingle with a chuckle. “We think that once entrepreneurs in Edmonton or elsewhere hear that this service is being offered, we can expect to hear from them.”

This summer, Taskey is working with a range of clients, including a social enterprise with a focus on career consulting services for high school students, while Pardoe is working with a biotech company looking to help patients with Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, among other clients.

About the Borden Ladner Gervais Business Venture Clinic

Launched in 2014, the BLG Business Venture Clinic is a student-run, pro bono legal clinic at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law that provides free legal information to Calgary’s entrepreneurs. It has helped more than 370 entrepreneurs with more than 560 legal documents and answers to thousands of questions since its inception.