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FAMU's Economic Justice Initiative provides free legal services to minority business owners 

With a $110,000 grant from Wells Fargo Bank, Florida A&M University’s College of Law is spearheading its Economic Justice Initiative, which will provide free legal services to help minority-owned small-business owners as they launch and grow their enterprises.

“The law school is located here in the heart of Parramore, one of the oldest African-American communities in the region, and the goal is really to provide the kinds of services that lots of small businesses (or folks who would want to start small businesses) need and may not have access to,” says Mark Dorosin, a civil rights attorney and FAMU associate professor leading the program.

Under Dorosin’s direction, FAMU law students will assist clients with a range of legal services — from choosing a business structure to reviewing contracts to navigating regulatory requirements to figuring out how to finance a project. Small businesses often avoid seeking legal advice until a problem arises, Dorosin says, which can create more problems or lead to missed opportunities. “We saw with COVID, as the federal government made lots of money available to small businesses to help them through the pandemic, many small businesses were not able to qualify for those loans or grants because they didn’t have all of the structural paperwork needed to get those loans and grants,” he says. “This clinic could be a resource to help secure (funding for) those businesses and thereby build wealth in the African-American community.”

FAMU will launch the in-house legal clinic in January as a for-credit course for its students. In the interim, a group of FAMU fellows is working with non-profit legal groups around the state to provide the services.

Dorosin has “big dreams” for the initiative. “Economic justice is a really broad umbrella, and you can think of a broad range of issues that could come under that, things like employment discrimination, wage-and-hour types of issues to heir/property issues and clearing titles so people realize the value of the homes that have been in their families for generations,” Dorosin says. “What I’m hoping will happen as we get this launched, what we’ll find is where there are needs that are not being met and then gear our work to meet those needs.”