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Penn State Law to launch new Rural Economic Development Clinic


Penn State Law to launch new Rural Economic Development Clinic

Rural America is vastly different than it was fifty years ago. Prosperity for many rural communities depends on innovative income-generating strategies, like extracting alternative energy sources. Today, agricultural producers need to be sophisticated business professionals. With one of the nation’s largest rural populations, Pennsylvania’s economy is dependent upon its rural communities. This fall, Penn State Law will launch its new Rural Economic Development Clinic to support this important sector of our economy, giving law students hands-on learning experience in a wide variety of legal issues specifically faced by agricultural businesses and rural communities.

“Penn State and its law school have a long history of service to Pennsylvania’s rural communities. Since its inception in 1997, the Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center has conducted legal research and performed outreach on a variety of issues that affect rural communities,” said Professor Ross Pifer, director of the Center. “The establishment of the clinic will expand upon this work by providing legal services to individual clients and client organizations. As a result, law students and rural communities will benefit in a very practical way.” Professor Pifer will also direct the new legal clinic.

“Pennsylvania has a rich rural heritage and is home to more than 2.8 million rural residents,” said Law School Dean Philip McConnaughay. “We want to provide students with the expertise to support the entrepreneurs and organizations that form the economic foundation of rural Pennsylvania.”

Operating like a small private law firm, clinic students will work under the supervision of licensed attorneys and will handle a wide variety of legal issues encountered by agricultural businesses and rural communities. The Clinic will provide students interested in rural affairs and community development with the practical skills training required in any transactional legal practice, including interviewing, counseling, developing legal strategies, drafting legal documents, and negotiation.

Clinic will tap deep roots in Pennsylvania economy

As one of Pennsylvania’s largest industries, agriculture has a profound impact on the Commonwealth’s economic success. This impact is most pronounced in rural communities where agricultural-related businesses remain a leading driver of economic development. Additionally, energy production, such as Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction, has the potential to transform Pennsylvania’s rural communities. As the role of energy production in Pennsylvania grows, so will the need for legal counsel to understand the myriad issues faced by businesses, landowners, and communities as a whole.

“Exposure to legal issues like the extraction of Marcellus Shale, an issue of great importance to Pennsylvania and our nation, will serve our students well as they move into the practice of law,” says Assistant Dean for Career Services Gicine Brignola. The energy practice area is predicted to be a growth segment. Brignola sees the clinic as an important way for students to get the type of practical experience that makes them attractive to employers.

“Sound business skills are arguably the most important factors in the ultimate success of rural operations,” says Pifer. “We will work with various individuals and organizations within the agricultural, food, and energy sectors to assist in providing tools for successful business operation. Some examples of potential clients who could be served by the clinic include agricultural producers who need help in drafting a contract to market their goods using the Community Supported Agriculture model or who sell their produce to local restaurants.” According to Pifer, other services could include providing legal assistance with developing basic business plans and reviewing contracts, as well as reviewing leases for wind or solar produced energy.

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