Legal clinic at Happy Valley LaunchBox expands scope in response to pandemic

March 30, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Tom Sharbaugh, Penn State Law professor of practice and director of the Entrepreneurship Assistance Clinic (EAC), has announced that, effective immediately and for the foreseeable future, the EAC is expanding its scope and service offerings to small Pennsylvania businesses, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The EAC serves startups and early-stage businesses that cannot afford traditional legal representation. If the EAC were not available, most of its clients would either operate without legal advice or attempt do-it-yourself solutions posted on the Internet, said Sharbaugh. The EAC will help small Pennsylvania companies in these difficult economic times as many are facing severe business pressures during the pandemic.

The clinic will offer counseling, document drafting and negotiation assistance regarding:

  • Managing liabilities, such as loans, leases and contractual obligations — many creditors, landlords, and other counterparties may be willing to enter into forbearance and other restructuring agreements. 
  • Evaluating performance obligations — many companies will need to assess their own contractual obligations and the obligations of the other parties to their contracts under such principles as "force majeure," impossibility, and frustration of purpose.
  • Counseling regarding potential personal liability — although most of the EAC’s clients are LLCs or corporations, many of them — as well as many other small-business entrepreneurs — are concerned about their own potential personal liabilities if their businesses cannot fulfill their obligations.
  • Changing equity ownership — some companies may be able to attract new capital from existing or new investors, while others will need to amend operating agreements to reflect the departure of co-founders who decide to move on.
  • Evaluating possible insurance coverage — some clients may have insurance policies that provide coverage for business interruption or contingent business interruption, or both.
  • Applying for governmental assistance — many clients will be eligible to apply for SBA, Pennsylvania and possibly other governmental programs that are being implemented to help businesses that have been hurt by the coronavirus outbreak. Other groups, such as the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers, are compiling lists of available programs and assisting small businesses with their applications — the EAC may be able to assist with related legal issues, such as whether individuals or their related entities should apply, and the extent of owners’ personal liabilities under guarantees.

Students at Penn State Law at University Park staff the clinic, subject to the supervision of two full-time licensed attorneys. The program is supported by Invent Penn State.

Although physically located at the Happy Valley LaunchBox in downtown State College, the EAC serves all of Pennsylvania through videoconferencing. In-person meetings have been suspended in an effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The clinic has served over 1,000 new startup and early-stage business clients.  Most clients are referred by economic development groups throughout Pennsylvania, including the 16 Small Business Development Centers, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Penn State’s network of 21 LaunchBoxes, SCORE, and others. The EAC is working with these groups to help in-common clients get through this challenging period.

The EAC does not provide intellectual-property advice or litigation services. 

The Penn State Law Intellectual Property (IP) Law Clinic is often able to provide IP services related to patents, trademarks, trade secrets and copyrights. Also based out of Happy Valley LaunchBox, the IP Clinic is closely monitoring the changes to the US Patent and Trademark Office as well as the Copyright Office during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Potential clients who are interested in obtaining services from the EAC or the IP Clinic should submit an intake form via the appropriate link below:

The Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic will still operate during the summer, after the current academic semester ends.

Last Updated April 21, 2020