MIT, BU will offer legal advice for free to student founders

BU Law students will staff clinics to help with finances, contracts, IP

MIT student entrepreneurs will soon be able to get independent legal advice from two law clinics opening on campus.

The clinics are the result of collaboration with Boston University, President L. Rafael Reif announced Wednesday.

After the MIT student creators of Tidbit, a bitcoin-mining hackathon project, were subpoenaed by New Jersey’s attorney general in 2014, Reif charged the provost, chancellor, and general counsel with establishing a resource for student entrepreneurs to access legal advice. The new collaboration with BU is a response to this charge.

This month, the Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property Clinic will open its doors to both MIT and BU students. Eight BU law students will staff the clinic, which will be directed by law professor Eve J. Brown.

“There’s opportunity for students to drop in and say ‘I don’t know if I need help or not, but this is what I’m doing, what do you think?’” Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 said in an interview with The Tech.

The clinic will help students navigate issues related to setting up and financing new startups, drafting and negotiating contracts, understanding intellectual property rights, and registering trademarks and copyrights, according to a BU press release. In addition, BU law students will provide representation in angel, venture, and commercial financing deals.

“Lots of times, people start small businesses, taking an invention to market without talking to a lawyer, and can get in trouble just by not knowing what to do,” Peggy Maisel, Associate Dean for Experiential Education at BU, said. “We really want to encourage the students to come with any kind of questions and sort out from that whether they need any sort of legal representation, and what needs to be done.”

To that end, the clinic will hold open office hours every Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship in building E40. In addition, monthly educational seminars and Q-and-A sessions will allow for outreach to the community.

“We want people to see us as partners,” Brown said.

In cases where the clinics cannot provide assistance, they aim to connect students with external resources. This would include cases in which students were involved in a dispute with MIT itself.

“We would not handle that; we would view that as a conflict,” BU Law Dean Maureen A. O’Rourke said.

The Technology and Cyberlaw Clinic is expected to begin operations in fall 2016 and will focus on “the impact of laws related to topics such as communications, data security, and privacy on students’ innovation-driven academic and extracurricular activities,” according to an MIT press release.

The clinics may also provide students with limited litigation assistance — either by representing the student directly, or by connecting the student with private counsel.

“By providing our students with the legal guidance to navigate the complexities of starting or running a business, the clinics will give them the freedom and confidence to focus on what they do best: creating innovative ideas, technologies, and companies,” Reif wrote in the campus-wide email.