CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia University College of Law has launched a program to offer legal support as well as educational services to Charleston.

The West Side Economic Development Project (WSEDP) is the result of the collaboration between the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Law Clinic (EILC), which is under the university, and the Legal Aid of West Virginia. The project intends to raise the competencies of the local businesses. In addition, it also aims to help other community organizations as well as nonprofit groups. Entrepreneurs are also welcome to take part and learn from the initiative.

The West Virginia University law students who are part of the EILC volunteered to create the material needed to extend crucial legal advice and law-related concepts to the project. To align their contribution with the goals of the WSEDP, the law students would provide materials related to the economic development efforts of the community.  

Priya Baskaran, director of the EILC and an associate professor of law at the university, discussed the importance of the small businesses and other local organizations in the community. According to her, the groups plan to provide a support system for the entrepreneurs and businesses. That is, the project’s volunteers would be sharing their knowledge of the law and their legal services to the community.

“Small businesses and community organizations are an important part of the economic backbone of the state," Baskaran told The West Virginia Record. "Our plan for this pilot project is to create a healthy system of legal services to support entrepreneurs and organizations, helping communities build wealth from within,” 

Baskaran said the project aims to serve the needs of members of the community. However, she pointed out, simply providing the materials to solve general concerns will not be enough. 

According to the EILC director, it would be better and more beneficial if the businessmen, entrepreneurs and organizations provide information regarding their issues. In that manner, the project’s handlers will have better insight on how to help their clients as well as what materials to provide.

“This project must be driven by the community,” Baskaran said. "We can create generic materials that would be useful but we can be even more effective if we first get a sense of the types of businesses people actually want to start. We need to know what the entrepreneurship environment is in that area so we can build our services accordingly.”

To gain better understanding of the community needs, the project will gather a focus group. With the information obtained from the group, the ELIC law students would then create different multimedia legal resources. The topics will include issues linked to licensing and forming a limited liability company. They will also discuss what is needed to qualify for non-profit status, how to protect one’s intellectual property, and how to legally open specific types of businesses. 

The materials will include videos, comprehensive guides and even checklists. For the convenience of their target beneficiaries, the resources would be made available online.

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