Few legal professionals have both the practical exposure and knowledge to help social enterprises navigate a complex and evolving regulatory environment. Establishing centralized hubs of knowledge at law schools can create a community of practice that allows lawyers to more effectively serve the needs of social entrepreneurs.

“The demand for talented lawyers who really understand the social enterprise sector is overwhelming the supply. This lack of adequate legal talent is starting to create a dampening effect on the overall growth of the sector,”

— Deborah Burand, Associate Professor of Clinical Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship

The Issue:

With a lack of regulatory and legislative clarity creating a vacuum in legal theory and practice around social entrepreneurship, the legal support available to entrepreneurs is either inadequate or divorced from client needs. Many lawyers are often quite conservative in their advice to entrepreneurs due to their lack of exposure to the social impact field. The uniqueness of the legal issues facing the social field – for example, the collection, protection, and transfer of social impact data – demands a robust legal community of practice that shares knowledge and experience across jurisdictions. Unfortunately, this legal community is still relatively small.

The Solution:

New York University Law School’s Grunin Center for Law and Entrepreneurship is the first center of its kind at a law school focused on social entrepreneurship. In partnership with Ashoka, a pioneer in the field of social entrepreneurship, the Center aims to foster the development of a robust community of legal professionals in government, academia, and the private sector who are engaged at the intersection of law and social entrepreneurship.

The Impact:

The Center will educate a new generation of legal professionals experienced in the social enterprise field and knowledgeable about the challenges faced by social enterprise. Moreover, the Center will become a hub for sharing knowledge about trends in social enterprise regulation and the documentation used for funding social enterprises. The Center will also maintain and expand the web-based Social Enterprise Tracker, which allows users to visualize how laws and regulations impacting social entrepreneurship have spread across the United States and beyond.

How it applies to your city:

Law schools should consider embedding themes of social entrepreneurship into their law school curriculum while providing law students with practical exposure to social enterprises in order to prepare lawyers to more effectively support entrepreneurs. Policymakers can consider how to engage with this growing area of practice in order to better understand the legal and regulatory obstacles faced by social entrepreneurs and their legal counsel.