The TERN Legal Advice Clinic

Byron Spring, Pro Bono Coordinator, Cleary Gottlieb, reports on a clinic partnership with The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network (TERN), which support refugee entrepreneurs in the creation and development of their businesses, enabling them to thrive through the power of their own ideas

TERN (The Entrepreneurial Refugee Network) is a UK social enterprise that enables refugees to thrive through the power of their own ideas. Through providing tailored and holistic support to refugees aspiring to start their own businesses, TERN strives to break down the barriers that prevent refugees from achieving their potential, both transforming public perceptions of migrants and stimulating innovation and diversity in entrepreneurship in the process.

One of the most significant barriers for aspiring entrepreneurs—particularly those who do not speak English as a first language—is having to negotiate the various legal complexities inherent in starting a new business, from choosing an appropriate corporate form to data protection and taxation.

This is where we saw the potential to assist. To coincide with the launch in 2019 of On Demand, TERN’s consultancy programme for businesses in a more advanced stage of the entrepreneurial cycle, Cleary Gottlieb assisted TERN with the production of a Legal Toolkit, an accessible introduction to various areas of corporate law for refugee entrepreneurs.

But this Toolkit was only a first step. Given the range and diversity of businesses in TERN’s network, we knew that a clinic structure would best enable our volunteers to address the bespoke legal queries of TERN’s entrepreneurs effectively. We were delighted that LawWorks could help.

In November 2019, TERN and Cleary Gottlieb launched the On Demand Legal Advice Clinic. This bi-monthly service, a member of LawWorks’ Clinic Network, engages volunteers from across Cleary Gottlieb’s corporate practice to advise refugee entrepreneurs on issues ranging from corporate structuring and finance to intellectual property and taxation. Lawyers from all seniorities at the firm have participated in this most rewarding of initiatives, advising on a range of challenging legal issues, and reflecting our firm’s core belief in the importance of diversity in business.

Following the lockdown in March 2020 the clinic moved online and continues to operate. The collaboration with TERN has developed into a hugely successful pro bono project, in less than two years, with more than 850 pro bono hours having been devoted to TERN matters.

The support and insurance provided by LawWorks has been key to ensuring the flexibility and potential expandability of the clinic. As TERN develops its in-depth support for refugee populations across the UK and beyond in 2021, we look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.


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