William Mitchell program helps new products get off the ground

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 21, 2014 - 4:47 PM

When Dan Belfry and partner Jon Buck searched the Internet for help grabbing a niche in the craft beer sector, they found the link to a business law clinic affiliated with William Mitchell College of Law. Thanks to help from that clinic and the law students who staff it, their Brewbicle is now a trademarked name for stackable containers to store and age home-brewed beer.

“Having someone familiar with the law was a huge boon for us,” Belfry said. “We’re not lawyers. I’m a Realtor. But we felt very comfortable with the clinic.”

And Belfry and Buck saved about $1,500 in legal fees by using the clinic, which performs its work on a pro bono basis.

William Mitchell’s business clinic has been around for 23 years. The current director, K.M. Davis, an adjunct professor at the school, is entering her third year supervising the operation and is looking for clients.

“There used to be a waiting list, but we’ve worked right through that,” Davis said. Most of the clinic’s marketing is by word-of-mouth and the clinic, which has five to six students at a time, is now looking for business for the fall semester.

“We’ve organized LLCs and corporations. We’ve drafted agreements for independent contractors, written leases, filed trademarks and set up nonprofits,” Davis said, noting that clients get a solid 50 hours of work from students who get school credit for their clinic experience.

“We’re like a small law firm,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of collaboration. This is real lawyering. It’s not a mock trial. It’s not studying. These are all certified student attorneys.”

Indeed, the Brewbicle is a real product available online and in a number of beer-related retail venues in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee.

“We are successfully trademarked now,” Belfry said. “Even though they were still students, everything was handled very professionally.”

Health care costs stabilizing

Despite all of the Sturm und Drang around the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, many of Minnesota’s largest employers saw positive results on the health care front last year, particularly as it relates to costs.

A survey of 31 corporations and government organizations across the state by the Minnesota Health Action Group found that spending on health care rose 4.7 percent last year. That was a slightly slower rate than the previous year and a nearly 15 percent drop from the 5.5 percent mark in 2011, the first year of the polling.

The survey reflects views of health care managers from across the state including such diverse organizations as Wells Fargo, Supervalu, Carlson Cos., Schwan Food Co., Olmsted County, the city of St. Paul and Park Nicollet Medical Center. In all, the companies represent 256,000 workers.

About 90 percent of the companies reported using wellness programs as a way to control costs, and most said they planned to spend more on such programs this year. Common financial incentives include gift cards and spending account contributions that average $500.

About 55 percent of employers say they don’t plan to stop offering health care benefits now that the state’s online insurance exchange, MNsure, is up and running, a result that is in line with a broader state report released by University of Minnesota researchers on June 11.

Said Carolyn Pare, the group’s CEO: “Nobody seems to be wringing their hands about the ACA.”

JACKIE CROSBY

and the winners are …

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