When Heidi Field-Alvarez decided to start her own small business, she had one main obstacle: “I have no business background,” she said. She knew that she was ready for a new adventure, and she was inspired by business models that had a mission to give back to the community. With a background in studio art and textile fabrication, Field-Alvarez decided on a plan: She would manufacture and sell undergarments for young adults, while partnering with the local non-profit Sylvia’s Sisters to provide feminine hygiene products to women and girls in need.
In the initial months of launching the new business, Field-Alvarez knew she’d have to tackle a number of different challenges, from finding manufacturers who would produce small quantities to deciding on the best online transaction vendor. Throughout the process, “Trademark protection was key for me because we were developing our marketing and branding,” said Field-Alvarez. “I wanted to make sure we were protected for that.” She had decided to name her new company after her grandmother – Lottie Belle – and had already designed a logo.
Field-Alvarez found her way to Richmond Law’s Intellectual Property and Transactional Law Clinic after receiving a recommendation from SCORE, a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring and education to small business owners. Through the clinic, Field-Alvarez worked with teams of students, under the direction of Prof. Ashley Dobbs, to not only secure trademark protection, but to assist with other business needs, as well.
In the clinic, the student attorneys are the primary point of contact for the client, responsible for setting meetings and maintaining client communications, as well as helping their clients anticipate their business’ legal needs. “Regardless of where a business is in its lifecycle, the clinic’s student attorneys assist with typical transactions and IP issues,” said Dobbs. “Student attorneys handle all drafting, reviewing, negotiating, researching, and advising for our business and individual clients.”
But the clinic experience is more than a benefit to the client. “The clinic is not only a shop to help people with their needs,” said Dustin Knight, L’17, a clinical student. “You can think of it like a teaching hospital for lawyers … The clinic is very much a bridge-to-practice kind of function within the law school.”
And it’s a class with tangible results, according to Knight: “It’s really neat, from our perspective, to go into the UR bookstore and see [the Lottie Belle merchandise] and think, ‘We had a hand in helping her secure her IP rights on that.’”