UPDATED JULY 2017
Find our worker centered cooperative projects and resources for starting, supporting, or cultivating worker cooperatives below!
Peruse our Law Center's legal resource library for cooperatives, Co-opLaw.org, which provides a forum for sharing, organizing, and making sense of information related to the legalities of cooperatives, including sample bylaws, operating agreements, and plain english guides to coop law.
Find resources for worker self-directed nonprofits, that is nonprofit organizations seeking to provide all workers with the power to influence programming, change the conditions of their workplace, have voice in the direction of their own career paths, and provide guidance to the organization as a whole.
Repaired Nations focuses on building wealth in Black communities by giving youth the tools needed to remain rooted: access to land and access to capital. Bookclubs, Workshops, and Trainings will educate and inspire communities to engage in cooperative effort, while giving grounded, practical skills for collective ownership. We repair the effects of colonization and oppression by helping to weave interconnected communities into thriving, sustainable networks to equitably provide the essentials of life. Our immediate goal is to educate youth of color in California about cooperative enterprise and develop necessary infrastructure for cooperative development in under-resourced, disadvantages communities.
This project uses one unique strategy to target the Bay Area’s racialized problem of high rent and low wages. It helps workers and tenants come together to take control of their workplaces and apartment buildings. This helps workers create worker cooperatives, and it helps tenants create housing cooperatives. Existing movements to help workers and tenants take collective control have incredible potential. Yet, barriers stand in the way of these movements reaching their full potential.
- 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 within 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.
Read and download our facilitator guides so you can host your own intro workshop on the legal nuts and bolts of starting a worker cooperative called "Learning to Think Outside the Boss!" It includes a facilitator guide, skit, and powerpoint slides we've created to explain how the law works in, against, and for worker cooperatives.
Find more information about our critical work in partnership with Propsera, the Democracy at Work Institute, and others, to fill the gap in legal and cooperative resources to support immigrant leaders building economic resilience and job stability for their communities.
Find information on the San Francisco Bay Area's first Worker Coop Academy, an intensive multi-month training course for teams who want to operate democratically-run, worker-owned enterprises, including replication resources and links to Academies across the country.
Find our downloadable legal manuals in both English and Español on how to create and run a worker-owned enterprise.
Through our Law Center’s Resilient Communities Legal Cafe, we provide one-time legal advice and consultations multiple times per month across the San Francisco Bay Area. This is a space to come and discuss your cooperative enterprise at any stage of its development, from idea to conversion to operation. We also provide long term representation to a very limited number of clients. For those building worker cooperatives interested in longer term representation from our Law Center, please contact Ricardo S. Nuñez at email@example.com.
SELC hosts teach-ins at the Resilient Communities Legal Cafe and half-day workshops focused on educating the public on cooperatives and advising existing coops on their development and operations. Please check SELC's calendar page for future teach-ins and workshops focused on cooperatives.
One example of our workshops focused on worker cooperatives is called Think Outside the Boss in English and El Proceso Legal Para Iniciar Tu Negocio Cooperativa en Español. Done in partnership with GC3, these workshops have been held in Richmond, East Oakland, San Leandro, West Oakland, Berkeley, and in Downtown Oakland, California. We hope to offer more opportunities for this type of education at least twice a year in English and once a year in Spanish. Check SELC's calendar page or contact SELC for more information.
If you'd like to host your own "Think Outside the Boss" workshop, please visit our "Learning to Think Outside the Boss" resources page. There, you will find guides, manuals, and slides to support you in providing your own introductory workshop into the nuts and bolts of starting a worker cooperative!
Below, one of SELC's many events educating community members on cooperatives: our Think Outside the Boss workshop!
Read below or download by clicking on the manual cover.
Lea a continuación o descargar haciendo clic en la portada del manual.
Would you like more info on the cooperatives program? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, the Law Center's Cooperatives program coordinator.
Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy:
Helping People Build Cooperatives, Social Enterprise, and Local Sustainable Economies
Buy the Book! - use discount code PAB16SHR for 50% off!
What People Are Saying
About the Author and Contributors
All royalties from this book go to the nonprofit Sustainable Economies Law Center!
An e-book version is also available.
About the Book
To most law students and lawyers, practicing transactional law isn’t an obvious path to saving the world. But as the world’s economic and ecological meltdowns demand that we redesign our livelihoods, our enterprises, our communities, our organizations, our food system, our housing, and much more, transactional lawyers are needed, en masse, to aid in an epic reinvention of our economic system.
This reinvention is referred to by many names—the “sharing economy,” the “grassroots economy,” the “new economy.” This new economy facilitates community ownership, localized production, sharing, cooperation, small scale enterprise, and the regeneration of economic and natural abundance. Sharing economy lawyers make the exploding numbers of social enterprises, cooperatives, urban farms, cohousing communities, time banks, local currencies, and the vast array of unique organizations arising from the sharing economy possible and legal.
There are nine primary areas of work that sharing economy lawyers should become familiar with, and each is addressed in a chapter of Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy:
- Designing and Drafting Agreements
- Choosing, Forming, and Structuring Entities
- Advising on the Legalities and Taxation of Exchange
- Navigating Securities Regulations
- Navigating Employment Regulations
- Navigating Regulations on Production and Commerce
- Managing Relationships with and Use of Land
- Managing Intellectual Property
- Managing Risk
The work of lawyers helping to build the sharing economy will often be challenging, but will always be interesting and demand creativity. Perhaps best of all, these lawyers will contribute greatly to the creation of a world in which innumerable people have now decided they want to live.
What People are Saying
“This monumental treatise defines, legitimates, and elaborates the key legal challenges facing U.S. new economy advocates, and in terms that even non-lawyers can understand. Whatever your angle – cooperatives, cohousing, alternative currencies, CSAs, social enterprise, crowdfunding – this book belongs front and center on your desk.”
- Michael Shuman, JD, author of Local Dollars, Local Sense and The Small-Mart Revolution
“Every once in a while someone sees the emerging pattern of a new order of things and is able to bring conceptual clarity and useful tools to it, thus defining a new field. That is what Janelle Orsi has done in her remarkable book on the sharing economy.”
- James Gustave Speth, JD, author of America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (Yale Press, 2012)
“A unique and indispensable handbook for anyone working in the field of alternative ownership design. We’ve long needed this book, and at last it’s here.”
- Marjorie Kelly, Fellow, Tellus Institute, and Director of Ownership Strategy, Cutting Edge Capital; author of Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution
“As Orsi notes in this invaluable book, lawyers often ‘work for firms that grease the wheels of the very economic system that is causing the widespread ecological and social distress.’ But this does not have to be the case! In Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy, she and her contributing co-authors provide an impressive roadmap to a range of innovative legal forms that can help communities build wealth and create the building blocks of a new economy.”
- Gar Alperovitz, author of America Beyond Capitalism, and Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy, University of Maryland
“This is a book for those who have hoped and dreamed of a way to practice law that was good for lawyers, clients and the planet.”
- J. Kim Wright, JD, Founder of Cutting Edge Law & Author of Lawyers as Peacemakers, Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law
“This book contains a wealth of substantive information and practical advice for any lawyer interested in participating in and creating more collaborative communities and a more sharing world.”
- Emily Doskow, JD, co-author of Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnership & Civil Unions, and The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Building Community
“Janelle Orsi is a visionary. Practicing Law in a Sharing Economy is an eye-opening work and an outstanding resource that belongs on the bookshelves of every attorney and law student who wants to become part of the growing movement to build sustainable, collaborative economies.”
- Don De Leon, JD, www.GrassrootsLawyers.com
“Can a sharing economy emerge from and transform capitalism? Janelle Orsi’s brilliant exegesis argues it can. Her book is a welcome clarion call to lawyers to learn and apply the rules that can support new forms of sharing and cooperation and to identify and change the rules that could inhibit or even endanger their continued growth.”
- David Morris, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, author of Self Reliant Cities: Energy and the Transformation of Urban America, and Seeing the Light: Regaining Control of Our Electricity System
“Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy is an excellent practical guidebook for lawyers, sharing economy companies, communities, and anyone interested in understanding what the sharing economy is, what’s necessary to help sharing-based enterprises thrive, and the fundamentally important role of appropriate policies in place for new shared models. It makes a significant and ground-breaking contribution to the legal landscape and is an invaluable resource for the entire sharing economy moving forward.”
- April Rinne, JD, Director of WaterCredit, Water.org
- Phil Heiselmann, JD, Sustainable Food Law
Read the complete book review by Don De Leon, JD, of www.GrassrootsLawyers.com
About the Author
Janelle Orsi is the Director of the national nonprofit Sustainable Economies Law Center, and she is a “sharing lawyer” in private law practice in Oakland, CA. Her work is focused on helping communities, share, barter, and create cooperatives, social enterprises, cohousing communities, urban farms, local currencies, and community-supported enterprise. In 2010, Janelle was profiled by the American Bar Association as a “Legal Rebel ,” an attorney who is “remaking the legal profession through the power of innovation.”
Janelle is co-author of The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community (Nolo 2009), a legal and practical guide to shared ownership and cooperative activity. Janelle earned her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
- Jenny Kassan, CEO of Cutting Edge Capital, on securities law, entities/organizations, and barter exchanges
- Inder Comar, on intellectual property
- Linda Barrera, Attorney at Law, on community energy
- Edgar S. Cahn, on time banking
- Marjorie Kelly, on entity design
- Brian Howe, Attorney at Law, on Washington social enterprise entities
- Daniel Fireside, Capital Coordinator for Equal Exchange, on corporate social responsibility
- Janelle J. Smith, on community-owned enterprise and local currencies
- Brendan Conley, on law collectives
- Christen Lee, on 501(c)(3) law firms
- Loren Rodgers, Executive Director of the National Center for Employee Ownership, on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs)
- Clementine Blazy, on social enterprise in France
- Mike Leung, on the proposed Worker Cooperative Federal Credit Union (unchartered)
- Wesley Roe, William G. Sommers, and Marjorie Lakin Erickson, on the Permaculture Credit Union
- Tree Bressen, on consensus policies
- Gaya Erlandson, on sociocracy/dynamic governance
- Gordon Ng, on local currencies
- Julie Pennington, on zoning and shared housing
Q: How would a community currency strengthen our local economy?
A: Money can be understood in terms of its flow or its circulation within an economy. Every time a dollar is spent in your community, it allows for someone else to spend that dollar again somewhere else. In a resilient local economy, that dollar could be spent many times locally, maintaining and growing the wealth of that community. However, most of our dollars these days flow out of our communities as soon as they are used, enriching national and multinational companies far away from where the money is spent. A community currency is inherently limited to a particular place or group, so it incentives people to shop at locally-owned businesses and keeps wealth flowing within the community. This is called the multiplier effect.
Q: How are community currencies different from Bitcoin and other virtual currencies?
A: While Bitcoin is a potentially disruptive technology, it is primarily designed to be global and anonymous, while community currencies are designed to be rooted in a specific place and increase personal relationships. Likewise, Bitcoin's value is based in scarcity, and is subject to wild speculation and concentration in the hands of a few wealthy investors. Community currencies are designed to increase the circulation of goods and services and primarily function as a means of exchange, rather than an investment or store of value.
Q: Do I still have to pay taxes on purchases made with a community currency?
A: Complementary currencies are subject to sales and income tax in the same way that dollars are, and those taxes are always paid in dollars. Particularly with the development of electronic currencies, online accounting systems make it easy to keep track of one’s expense, manage an account, and prevent tax evasion.
Q: Where can I find out more?
A: There are a variety of online resources with more information on local currencies. Visit these links for more information:
CommunityCurrenciesLaw - Sustainable Economies Law Center’s online legal resource library containing further information and links to a wide range of resources considering the legal aspects of community currencies and barter systems.
PluggingTheLeaks.org - Resources developed by the UK-based New Economics Foundation exploring the dynamics of a local economy and how currencies either keep money circulating locally or allow it to leak out.
Schumacher Center for a New Economics - Reference material, publications, and a directory of currencies across the US from the founders of the BerkShare.
Lietaer.com - Homepage of Bernard Lietaer, one of the world’s foremost experts on community currencies and monetary systems.
For more resources and references, visit our Resources page at CommunityCurrenciesLaw.org
We develop innovative policy recommendations and spearhead legislative campaigns that enable more localized, just, and resilient economies.
Oakland is poised to be the first city in the country to preferentially contract with local worker cooperatives.
A national campaign to reform state laws that threaten our seed commons and the right to share local seeds.
Creating a clear legal space for seed sharing.
Status: Passed in 2016
Creating opportunity for small businesses, farms, and renewable energy projects to raise money from local investors.
Status: Stalled in 2016
Creating a worker cooperative legal entity and capital raising options that recognize the unique and valuable impact of worker coops.
Status: Passed in 2015
Guaranteeing the rights of renters and HOA residents to grow their own food.
Status: Passed in 2014
Facilitating the development of cooperative housing.
Status: Passed in 2014
Legaliziing certain types of home-based food enterprises.
Status: Passed in 2012
Allowing businesses to raise capital through crowdfunding intermediaries.
Status: Passed in 2012
Policy Reports & Recommendations
Short-term residential rentals, like those facilitated by online platforms including Airbnb, Homeaway, and Flipkey, have become a popular alternative to traditional hotels in recent years. A drastic increase in short-term rental (STR) activity has many cities feeling the negative cumulative impacts of STRs on housing prices and availability, neighborhood quality, and public revenues. STRs can also provide some benefits, including creating opportunities for income generation, diversifying travel options, and spreading tourism dollars to local residents and businesses. Our recommendations for equitable short-term rental regulation balance the potential benefits of STRs with the need for protection of important public interests.
Worker cooperatives create quality jobs, grow local wealth, and promote economic resilience. Local governments can be instrumental in fostering the development of worker cooperatives by removing several key barriers and providing essential technical, strategic, and financial support. We've drafted a worker cooperative development policy tailored to the city of Oakland, California, a perfect example of a city that could benefit from a thriving cooperative economy and everything that comes with it. The ordinance can be easily tailored to fit the needs of any U.S. city, and we welcome inquiries from cities wishing to adopt a similar policy.
Policies for Shareable Cities is the first policy handbook of its kind. It includes over 30 recommended policies for how cities should regulate the true sharing economy in the areas of food, work, housing, and transportation.
Ready to be a Policymaker in Your City or State?
We want you to make policy! To create economically resilient communities, we need to change or create millions of city, state, and federal laws. These new laws would remove barriers to and create incentives for local food production, renewable energy projects, local industry, worker-owned enterprises, shared housing, and other aspects of thriving communities.
More on the Law Center's Advocacy in California
- The Law Center supports California bill to establish the Nutrition Incentives Matching Grants Program (AB 1321) to create incentives for recipients of nutrition assistance programs (eg CalFRESH, food stamps) to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts at California farmers' markets and small retailers. Read more about it here.
- Sustainable Economies Law Center opposes bill to ban right of local government to tax short term rentals (AB 1220). Read our opposition letter here.
Yassi Eskandari - yassi [at] theselc.org
This fall, SELC is offering an 11-part workshop series for attorneys and legal professionals seeking to build skills and knowledge to meet the legal needs of the sharing economy. Click here for the full listing of workshops. This is the first workshop series of its kind! The curriculum for the workshop expands upon SELC’s groundbreaking book, Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy (ABA Books 2012).
It’s time for a new kind of energy. Community renewable energy is clean, small-scale, and owned or sponsored by communities. That's why it creates democratic, resilient energy grids with distributed economic benefits. Join the Sustainable Economies Law Center's expert panelists for a conversation about the legal barriers, policy opportunities, and steps to creating this new energy future.
11:30am - 12:30pm PDT / 2:30pm - 3:30pm EDT