This summer, if you’ve been around Hub Berkeley and noticed a group of friendly and hard-working folks talking about cooperatives, local currencies, and other things you don’t hear about often, that’s probably the interns for the Sustainable Economies Law Center.
In December of last year, attorney and Hub member Jenny Kassan and I founded the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) to create a forum to develop tools, legal guides, and policies that would enable a different kind of economy – one built around sharing, bartering, local investing, cooperatives, community-supported enterprises, and other community-based solutions. You can read more about us on our website, an article I wrote about our work, in the East Bay Express, or this article in California Lawyer Magazine.
In our own law practices (Katovich Law Group and the Law Office of Janelle Orsi), Jenny and I are constantly meeting creative clients who are doing things outside of typical legal boxes: forming local energy cooperatives, cohousing communities, socially responsible businesses, local currencies, and so on. We’ve learned that there is a lot of work left to be done to create a space in our legal frameworks for people and groups like these. That’s part of why we formed SELC.
Another reason we founded SELC is to provide opportunities for law students to learn about these topics, and potentially pursue them as areas of practice. Soon, every community is going to need attorneys who help people share, form cooperatives, barter, and build social enterprises. With SELC’s summer internship program, we have five excellent interns already on the path to creating more sustainable economies.
In just the first month of our internship program, we’ve already seen amazing work by Jenny Kassan and her interns Kathleen Kenney of UC Davis Law School and Aroma Sharma of Santa Clara University Law School. Together, they drafted a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting a rule change that would enable the growth of community-owned enterprises. Specifically, they asked that small businesses be allowed to raise money by asking for investments of under $100 per person from friends, family, community members, and even strangers! Read all about this project on Boing Boing. Their next projects involve creating a FAQ on the legalities of creative money raising for small businesses, and revising the California Cooperative Corporations statute to enable its application to worker-owned cooperatives.
My own projects with SELC focus on local currencies/barter and urban agriculture. Intern Erin Byers of Golden Gate University Law School is examining local currency organizations around the country, and among other things, researching the question of what organizational structure and form of tax exemption these organizations should take. In particular, she will be doing the research that will help us advise a local currency, the Davis Dollars, on how to structure its organization. Part-time intern Parissa Ebrahimzadeh of UC Davis Law School is also working with us on developing a legal how-to guide to bartering.
Intern Christopher Curran of UC Hastings Law School has brought together an amazing group of activists and attorneys to form a Working Group on urban agriculture legal issues, and this group is building an online legal resource library on the topic. On July 12th, Chris’ work will culminate in an event called the Urban Agriculture Legal Meet-Up, where we will provide a workshop and host a discussion about the legal issues urban farmers should know about, and offer a series of 30-minute consultations.
All of this is just the beginning. Now that we have some momentum, there’s a lot in store, and we’d love to tell you more about it. Please join us at the Hub Berkeley on the evening of July 27th for SELC’s Launch Party! You’ll get to see the results of our summer projects and learn more about our vision for what’s next! We’ll even tell you how you can get involved!