Students gain real-world experience giving free legal assistance to emerging businesses, non-profits

New course in entrepreneurial law and volunteering offers a chance to learn outside the classroom and get guidance from lawyers.


Law professor Faith Majekolagbe designed and launched a new course that gives students hands-on experience providing legal support services for emerging businesses, microenterprises, tech ventures, non-profits and social enterprises. (Photo: Ryan Parker)

When Apology Experience decided to launch, they knew they had to get their legal house in order.

The small startup provides coaching to help people apologize properly when they misstep in a personal relationship, first by actually meaning it when they say they’re sorry, followed by accepting accountability.

“What are you going to consciously do to show your person that you are going to change that behaviour?” says Medina Umarji, the company’s co-founder. “We noticed that a lot of times, there’s a lot of words but no actions to meet the words, so we decided to turn that into a business.”

Umarji and co-founder Raymond Mok needed help drafting terms and conditions and a privacy agreement for their client contract, but legal help can be expensive, especially for a small business.

That’s when they turned to the University of Alberta’s River City Venture Legal Services Centre, run through the Faculty of Law. Through a team of volunteer law students and lawyers, the centre provides free legal help to emerging businesses, microenterprises, tech ventures, non-profits and social enterprises.

“When the students jumped in it was amazing,” says Umarji. “They were getting everything back to us on time, answering all our questions. They were like angels.”

Apology Experience launched earlier this month, with an official launch planned for August.

The River City clinic was initially set up last year by a group of law students and alumni, but the substance of its practice is the brainchild of Faith Majekolagbe, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law who joined the U of A last year.

Her research focuses on intellectual property, technology law and the public interest, especially the effects of international and domestic copyright laws and policies on access to knowledge, human development and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As a doctoral student at RMIT University in Australia, Majekolagbe was impressed by an entrepreneurial law course there that enlisted business, engineering and law students to provide new businesses with what can often be expensive legal assistance.

“When I arrived here, I thought this is something I should do,” she says. “Edmonton is fast becoming a tech hub, and there are people who simply can’t afford legal support early in their career.”

Majekolagbe quickly designed a course in entrepreneurial law to give River City’s students the right skills to provide legal support to startups with limited resources. Students take the course over one term and then work in the clinic for a full year.

At least two students are assigned to a case file typically. Although they aren’t yet qualified to give legal advice to clients, they can provide transactional legal support and information, as well as draft documents such as contracts. The documents are then reviewed by Majekolagbe and an advising lawyer to make sure they’re accurate and complete.

“If you are interested in solicitor’s work, you don’t normally get a chance to draft a contract on your own for at least three years into your career,” says Michael Solomon, one of three students who worked for Apology Experience through the River City clinic this past year.

“Having the experience of writing a few different types of contracts — a licence agreement, privacy and copyright policy and a website terms of service — gives you a good taste of what it’s like, and that’s really helpful in choosing a legal career,” says Solomon.

Consulting lawyers for advice was an added bonus, he adds, as their perspectives shed valuable light on the nuances of client interests.

“I’m really excited to see what Apology Experience does with their business, especially since I was the first person to give them legal information. That’s a pretty cool thing in my career.”

Having the experience of writing a few different types of contracts ... gives you a good taste of what it’s like, and that’s really helpful in choosing a legal career.

Michael Solomon

Michael Solomon
(Photo: McCarthy Tétrault LLP)

Initial feedback on both the course and the clinic from students, clients and the advising lawyers has been stellar so far, says Majekolagbe.

“Students are happy they’re getting experience they wouldn’t otherwise get. Clients are grateful they can get legal support at no cost, and the legal community is grateful students come into the field with some experience,” she adds.

“I have had lawyers tell me that they wished there was something like this when they were students; it would have really helped.”