Wayne Law launches independent, apprentice-model law firm

A new, independent law firm hatched by Wayne State University Law School will help new attorneys move forward and assist Detroit entrepreneurs with growing their businesses and being part of the city's economic comeback.

The nonprofit firm, Wayne Alumni Law Group, has offices at TechTown, Wayne State's research and technology park and business incubator, at 440 Burroughs St. There, these four new associates, all 2014 Wayne Law graduates, were introduced Wednesday, Dec. 17:

-Rula Aoun of Dearborn.

-Christopher Banerian of Bloomfield Hills.

-Henry Ibe of Canton.

-Bonnie Smith of Farmington Hills.

"Wayne Alumni Law Group is a financially self-sustaining, business strategy and legal services firm, which leverages its apprentice model of post-graduate legal training to provide discounted services to Detroit-area entrepreneurs," said firm Director Eric Williams, who is an assistant (clinical) professor at Wayne Law.

Aoun will be beginning a fellowship as a Collins Family Scholar. The other three associates will be paid through the firm's client business.

The firm charges its clients for work done, but the billing is about half of what most firms in the area charge, said Williams, who worked on the plan to create the incubator firm. Attorneys from Bodman PLC and Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss PC worked pro bono with Wayne Law to establish the incubator firm, which is overseen by a board. Members are Williams; Wayne Law Dean Jocelyn Benson; Wayne Law Assistant Professor Eric Zacks; Wayne Law 2004 alumnus John Walus of Warsh Alpert & Alpert; and Wayne County Circuit Judge Edward Ewell, a 1985 Wayne Law alumnus.

Smith is excited about being able to use her work with the new firm as a patent lawyer to help entrepreneurs.

"The Wayne Alumni Law Group is a great opportunity for local start-up companies," she said. "We'll provide affordable legal advice to help start-up companies grow, and, in turn, positively impact our surrounding community. Intellectual property is a valuable asset that can help attract investors and expand business. Issues associated with IP and particularly patent laws and rights can be overwhelming and easily overlooked. I look forward to advising companies on prosecuting their own patents and possible infringement issues with respect to their competitors."

The new nonprofit law firm is part of Wayne Law's Program for Entrepreneurship and Business Law, of which Williams is the director. The independent firm will work closely with Wayne Law, local law firms, area incubators and other members of Detroit's entrepreneurial infrastructure, he said.

"We saw two distinct needs," Williams said. "One was to increase the amount of on-the-job learning opportunities for graduates. Second was a need to assist entrepreneurs in Detroit with the planning and legal services that are an essential component of a successful business. We put those two ideas together and came up with a nonprofit law firm that trains lawyers to work with entrepreneurs."

The apprentice-model will see associates mentored through a six-month, structured program.

"During that period, associates will be guided through every aspect of creating and managing a successful, modern law practice," Williams said. "At the completion of the initial training, associates will begin a year-long guided apprenticeship, working closely with established attorneys to learn the substantive law relevant to startups while becoming familiar with the participants and subtleties of Detroit's entrepreneurial ecosystem. The training component is designed to enable each participant to walk out of the incubator firm and successfully practice on their own."

The associates will be encouraged to cultivate the demand and client base necessary to stay in practice in Detroit, he added.

"We want to make it easier for entrepreneurs to be successful all sorts of clients ranging from mom-and-pop shops to restaurants and technology companies," Williams said.

The new graduates chosen as the firm's first associates were selected based on their interest in Detroit and in helping the community and on their prior experience with Wayne Law's business law clinics.

For additional information, contact Williams at eric.williams@waynealumnilawgroup.org.

To learn how to support the program, contact Denise Thomas at deniselei@wayne.edu.

Published: Mon, Dec 29, 2014