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June 11, 2018 | Tom Ballard

UTK Business Clinic “giving students hands-on opportunities” while helping entrepreneurs

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

A familiar face to many entrepreneurs with ties to the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK), Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” initiative, and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center is Brian Krumm.

The former TVA and State of Tennessee executive heads the Business Clinic in the UTK College of Law. It’s a position he assumed about six years ago and one that he clearly relishes.  It combines Krumm’s passion for preparing students for the profession they’ve chosen while also supporting the region he calls home.

“We’re giving students hands-on opportunities to use the legal knowledge they’ve gained in class,” he explains. “Reading it in a book alone doesn’t do it.”

When Krumm joined the faculty full-time in a tenure track position, he says the Clinic’s focus was more on economic and community development activities. He decided to make it more about entrepreneurship and intellectual property (IP). Krumm is the sole faculty member in the Business Clinic, but he also has a three-hour course load each semester.

The Business Clinic is part of the longest-running legal clinical program in the nation that was founded 70 years ago. UTK is a national leader in clinical education, ranking ninth in the U.S. News and World Report’s top legal clinical programs among public universities and 20th among all U.S. law schools.

“It’s all one law firm, but ours has a different focus than the others,” Krumm says. “Our role is the creative part of the clinic, helping entrepreneurs rather than representing people in court.”

So, what services does the Business Clinic offer?

“We do everything from entity creation to IP counseling, contracts, software agreements, trademarks, copyrights, and non-disclosure agreements,” Krumm says. “So many students come in and say I have an idea I want to protect.”

About 75 percent of the work that the law students do each year is transactional. “It’s me and anywhere from eight to 12 students a semester,” he notes.

The program operates very similar to a typical law firm with a couple of exceptions. A prospective client completes an intake form that describes their business plan and the services they expect to receive from the Business Clinic. An interview follows, and the team makes a decision on accepting or rejecting the prospective client. If the answer is “yes,” further meetings follow to define the responsibilities of the students and the client in greater detail.

Krumm says the key distinctions between a typical law firm and the Business Clinic involve fees and competition with other attorneys. The Clinic does not charge for its services, but does charge for any filing fees like for a business entity filing, copyright or trademark. Also, the Clinic does not take-on clients that are generating revenue and can engage an attorney directly.

He also notes that a distinctive feature of the Business Clinic is its participation is a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office program that allows law students to file trademarks and patents themselves.

“My interest is in developing students to practice law,” Krumm reaffirmed late in our interview. As such, he is particularly proud of two activities in which students that he has advised have successfully competed.

Along those lines, the 1994 UTK College of Law graduate says he’s investigating starting a compliance curriculum. “We need to teach students those skills to open-up new markets for them,” Krumm explains.

An article about Krumm and the activities of the Business Clinic was published in the Summer 2017 edition of the Tennessee Law Magazine. It includes a synopsis of work with iCare, a UTK-connected start-up that he describes as the Business Clinic’s “greatest win.”

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