Law students' work comes alive this past summer in Colombia

By Clare Hiyama
U-M Law

The work that David Guenther and his law students had done in the classroom came alive in Colombia this summer, when Guenther and adjunct professor Dave Koch helped build second rooms onto the homes of two local families with few financial resources. Guenther heads Michigan Law’s International Transactions Clinic (ITC), where the unofficial motto is, he says, “Doing good by doing deals.” The students and professors fulfilled this motto with Habitat for Humanity’s MicroBuild fund.

The fund provides loans for microfinance institutions internationally, which lend small amounts to low-income families to build homes and improve upon existing homes. The students working on the case, under the supervision of attorney and ITC adjunct professor Carl Valenstein, provided pro bono legal services for Habitat, helping the organization structure, raise, and document two successive rounds of the $100 million housing fund. Students researched  legal issues, reviewed loan agreements, drafted ancillary documents, and assisted with closing under the guidance of Valenstein and in cooperation with attorneys at Morgan Lewis LLP.

According to student Avni Patel this was the first time many of the students learned to practice transactional law. The experience, Patel says, was useful in developing a practical legal skillset.

This year, Habitat for Humanity’s efforts with its MicroBuild fund were acknowledged by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s development finance institution, with its Access to Finance award. The award was presented after the fund helped provide access to financing for better houses for more than 250,000 people in 20 countries. “Habitat helps people at the bottom of the global socio-economic pyramid by providing them with financing and other tools they need to improve their own lives in a sustainable way,” Guenther says. “That approach fits very well into the work we do in the ITC; not only does it help us teach our students the legal issues involved in doing an international transaction, but it also helps our students understand how they can use their legal skills and transactional and business law generally to better the world around them, in an entrepreneurial way.”

For Patel, the experience of working on the deal will be memorable: “The Habitat deal was the first deal I have worked on, ever, so it was one that I will always remember.

“It was very exciting to work on a deal of this magnitude and for such a well-known client, while being able to doing really substantive work. …I’ve gained a greater appreciation and understanding of organizations with social missions and of organizations with an international reach. The skills I have gained in the clinic are helping me start my legal career on the right foot.”