VLS students help create a new nonprofit through Vanderbilt’s Transactional Pro Bono Spring Break

Mar 27, 2018

Six Vanderbilt law students spent Spring Break 2018 doing pro bono legal work through the Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union, a community development financial institution based in Johnson City, Tennessee, through Vanderbilt’s Transactional Pro Bono Spring Break program.

Assistant Clinical Professor Lauren Rogal worked with team leader Jenae Ward ’19 of the Law Students for Social Justice to organize the trip. Students helped the ACFCU create a new nonprofit organization focused on improving the financial health of Central Appalachia.

“After interviewing the client and getting a crash course in nonprofit law, the students drafted all of the governance documents, the application for tax-exempt status, and a contract to govern the relationship between ACFCU and the new nonprofit,” Rogal said.

Team members also included Pin Gu LL.M. ’18, Alan Gao ‘18, Connor Crum ’19, Charlotte Gill ’19 and Latoya Bethune ’20.

“We basically helped create a nonprofit corporation from the ground up,” Gill said. “We created a charter, drafted bylaws and compliance policies, and started preparing the application for 501(c)(3) status.”

Aaron Duffy ’08, senior vice president of community and legal affairs at ACFCU, facilitated the transactional pro bono break. “It was a wonderful experience for ACFCU,” Duffy reported. “The students were all professional, engaged and genuinely interested in learning about our work in underserved communities. It was an honor to have the law school out here helping us as we serve Central Appalachia.”

Students also supported efforts to expand the reach of Appalachian Mountain Project Access, a program that connects residents of northeastern Tennessee who lack medical insurance with donated medical care. To help the program enroll and educate more volunteers, students drafted an application form, a services contract, and a set of rules and regulations for the volunteer program.

“I was interested in how social justice and public interest law can work within the transactional field,” Ward said. “I got to put into practice what I’ve been learning in Corporations as well as practical research skills. We learned in depth how 501(c)(3) organizations work, and also had the opportunity to step back and look at the overarching strategy for the organization and how its structure supports its programs.”

At the end of the week, students handed off their work to a team of Spring Break volunteers from University of Tennessee Law. “The students worked incredibly hard and we have two very satisfied clients!” Rogal said. “Our students explained what they’d been working on to the leader of the next volunteer team and prepared binders to facilitate the transition of work–a useful experience in working collaboratively with other attorneys.”

Rogal launched the Turner Family Community Enterprise Clinic, a new clinic that supports nonprofit organizations with a variety of transactional legal services, this spring.

The ACFCU Pro Bono Spring Break Trip to Johnson City was one of two Pro Bono Spring Break trips sponsored by Vanderbilt’s George Barrett Social Justice Program, Law Students for Social Justice and the Office of Public Interest. A team of seven Vanderbilt Law students traveled to Lumpkin, Georgia, where they worked with attorneys from the Southeastern Immigrant Freedom Initiative to represent detainees at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Stewart County, Georgia.

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