A National Legal Landscape to Support Worker Cooperatives
Our mission is to cultivate a new legal landscape that supports community resilience and grassroots economic empowerment. We provide essential legal tools - education, research, advice, and advocacy - so communities everywhere can develop their own sustainable sources of food, housing, energy, jobs, and other vital aspects of a thriving community. The Law Center focuses on worker cooperatives and other democratically-governed enterprises because they provide pathways out of poverty, economic stability for working families, and wealth generation for thriving, resilient communities.
During our years of supporting movements toward democratic, employee ownership, there has been an exponential growth of community-focused entrepreneurs launching cooperatives and existing business owners seeking to sell to their employees. Both groups face a glaring gap: competent legal expertise and legal resources critical to entrepreneurs as they transition to worker ownership. In the Fall of 2018, the Law Center began on an ambitious path to addresses these gaps through funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Through a multi-pronged approach of seven integrated projects, we are beginning to address the gap in legal expertise and legal resources for a national transition towards democratic employee ownership. These projects described below will be shaped and evolve based on the input from stakeholders across the country. However, even as these projects adapt to the needs of our communities, we thought you should know about the initial concepts.
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Community Education Video Series
Our Community Education Video Series will demystify and build understanding of the various models of worker and employee ownership for entrepreneurs and community based organizations (CBO) integrating employee ownership into their social enterprises. Ricardo will lead the Community Education Video Series covering the various forms of worker ownership featuring conversations with experienced attorneys, worker-owners, and thought leaders. A decision matrix guiding entrepreneurs through appropriate worker ownership options will complement the video series which will published online in thematic modules.
Our Community Education Video Series will provide an overview of the various forms of worker ownership and describe the legal advantages/drawbacks of choosing one form over another. By the end of the funding cycle, this video series will be used by 100 cooperative attorneys, entrepreneurs, and CBOs and published on Co-opLaw.org.
Our comprehensive worker-owner legal resource library, Co-opLaw.org, will provide a central legal resource hub for attorneys and entrepreneurs ready to dive deeper into cooperative law and serve as a place to disseminate the resources created through this project. These resources will lower the cost of legal services needed to launch a worker cooperative or transition a business to worker ownership.
Co-opLaw.org will be redesigned to increase usability and expand cooperative law concepts. By the end of the funding cycle it will included a detailed analysis of cooperative formation options and sample documents for all 50 states.
National Cooperative Law Fellowship
Our national legal incubator for cooperative attorneys, the National Cooperative Law Fellowship, will support a national system for attorneys learning cooperative law and providing legal services to low-income communities and communities of color.
A National Cooperative Law Fellowship will provide incubation resources to Fellows including monthly calls where Fellows present and ask questions to other attorneys in a confidential, safe space. Fellows will also attend two in-person convenings per Project Year featuring intensive training, networking, and mentorship. By the end of Year 2, the program will be designing a pilot system helping Fellows get hands-on experience in cooperative lawyering. By the end of the funding cycle, up to 15 new attorneys will be Fellows in the incubation program, and up to 15 attorneys in their first six months as Fellows will receive stipends.
Legal Practice Guide for Advising CA Cooperatives
Our California Practice Guide for Attorneys Focused on Worker Cooperatives, the first of its kind in the nation, will help to mainstream the practice of cooperative law and will be crafted for easy replication and adaptation in other states nationwide. A comprehensive Legal Practice Guide for Advising California Cooperatives will provide fully developed, step-by-step procedures for attorneys advising cooperative clients, including tips and tactics, strategic options, and lists of what to consider and how to proceed when advising employee owned enterprises.
Online Training Program for Cooperative Attorneys
Our Intensive Online Training Program for Cooperative Attorneys will empower attorneys to specialize in serving democratic, employee-owned businesses and deepen their legal expertise via an anytime, on-demand, massive online open course. An Online Training Program for Cooperative Attorneys will be developed with materials created and refined through the Fellowship’s intensive in-person trainings and other resources. By the end of Year 3, this training program will be online and tested by at least 30 attorneys.
Cooperative Professionals Guild
The national association of worker cooperative attorneys, the Cooperative Professionals Guild, will convene cooperative attorneys and accountants in a peer support network with ongoing learning opportunities.
An expanded Cooperative Professionals Guild, operating as a project of Sustainable Economies Law Center, will provide peer support, ongoing training, and networking opportunities. By the end of Year 3 at least 50 attorneys who specialize in providing legal and technical assistance to worker-owned enterprises will be participating in the Guild which will coordinate at least one national conference for cooperative attorneys and accountants each year of the project.
Law for Economic Democracy Network
Our integrated online technology platform, the Law for Economic Democracy Network (formerly known as NextLegal.org), will provide an online social network for attorneys learning cooperative law, a space for training, mentorship, and networking, and an entry to the broader cooperative law community. This online community will provide legal professionals a place to learn, share, and support each other in providing high-quality legal services to cooperatives of all kinds. By the end of Year 3, NextLegal.org will have increased its membership by 200+ legal professionals.
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