Local law clinic helps small businesses thrive

Small businesses in Portland benefit from low cost legal advice

Nikki Guerrero owns Hot Mama Salsa in Portland. (KOIN)
Nikki Guerrero owns Hot Mama Salsa in Portland. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Starting a small business comes with many things to consider, from naming the company to logistics.

What many entrepreneurs may not realize is that while they know the ideas and labor aspect of their work, all kinds of legal work is also vital to running a business.

Bee Local sells specialty honey to stores across the county, and even in Japan. Founder Damian Magista started out with one hive in his backyard and grew his honey business to more than 100 hives in the Willamette Valley.

Bee Local honey is made in Portland and sold all over the county. (KOIN)
Bee Local honey is made in Portland and sold all over the county. (KOIN)

“I started selling honey to my neighbors, giving it away mostly, actually,” Magistra said.

He eventually took it to the Woodmans Market where he says the owner “looked at the jar, looked at the label, looked at me and said ‘We’ll buy everything you have’ and that’s really how it all started.”

Before he could have all that success, Magista needed some help with the name Bee Local. He needed a copyright.

“It is much more complex than I ever thought,” Magista said.

He turned to the Small Business Legal Clinic, part of the Lewis and Clark Law School. Attorneys and students supervised by professors provide low-fee legal help to small businesses.

“We’re the only organization in the state that offers low-income, low fee [advice] — we charge $25 per legal matter,” said Executive Director Steve Geobel.

Geobel said the biggest issues they help small business owners with are contracts, leases, choices of entity (corporation, LLC etc.) government regulatory issues and intellectual property issues.

“Having someone like the clinic there to have access to for me was incredibly important,” Magistra said.

Nikki Guerrero, who owns Hot Mama Salsa in North Portland also got help with her business from the clinic.

Get legal advice for your small business

“We do everything by hand, we get everything locally,” Guerrero said. “That’s the food I want to eat. It’s not the food you typically find in grocery stores and big businesses.”

While she was an expert in making her salsa and hot sauces, Guerrero wanted help with the lease agreement for her new kitchen.

“They are fantastic because when you own a small business sometimes legal fees seems too exorbitant to even consider going to a lawyer to ask a simple question, so you don’t get answers a lot of times,” Guerrero said. “But having access to the Small Business Legal Clinic is awesome.”

One of the most important legal issues for most small businesses is to get a signature, not a handshake, when you start.

“We try to help people understand they can do anything they want to do, just do it correctly,” Geobel said.

The clinic serves about 250 clients. You have to have already started a business or have sold a business plan to get their help.

“Having those entities out there that can help a small business is phenomenal,” Guerrero said.

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