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W&L Law Student Helps Refugee Artists Get Started in Business

When Washington and Lee law student Ernest Hammond learned about Virginia Lawyers for the Arts, he jumped at the chance to help this Virginia Bar Association committee that arranges legal services for artists in need.

Hammond, a third year law student from Chicago, reached out to the group to fulfill his law-related service obligation, one of the key components of W&L’s innovative, client-focused third-year curriculum. He also hoped to gain some real world experience in area where he hopes to practice.

“I am interested in entertainment and arts law with a transactional focus, and this seemed like a great opportunity to get exposure in that area,” says Hammond.

Hammond was right. When the committee received a request for services from a group of Burmese and Bhutanese women based in Charlottesville who were interested in forming a business to sell their traditional artwork, Hammond voted with the other committee members to accept the project. Equipped with a third-year practice certificate, he then volunteered to take on the project himself.

The artists, who are refugees, use traditional looms and weaving practices to produce handbags, hats, and scarves. They then sell their unique items at arts and crafts fairs across Virginia. The group had received some initial financial support from the International Rescue Committee but was interested in establishing themselves more permanently.

Hammond’s first step was to help the artists find a legal structure that fit their business needs. He advised them to set up their craft cooperative as a Virginia non stock corporation, which would create a stable business entity even as individual artists might come and go. In addition, Hammond thought the business was a strong candidate for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

“These artists are as interested in involving the community in their culture and heritage and teaching their skills as much as they are in making money,” says Hammond.

So far, Hammond has drafted the articles of incorporation and the corporate by-laws, making sure all of the material is in compliance for 501(c)(3) status when the paperwork is filed with the state. He was advised on the project by W&L professor and corporate law expert David Millon as well as Charlottesville attorney Tim Lyons, a member of the Lawyers for the Arts committee.

Hammond, who earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida, transferred to W&L Law after a year at American University. He was drawn to W&L’s close knit community and strong student-faculty relationships, and in the end it was those relationships, especially the encouragement of Dean Mary Natkin, that led Hammond to this opportunity.

“It has been really rewarding,” he says. “I never thought I would in a position to help people this way while still in law school.”

News Contact:
Peter Jetton
School of Law Director of Communications
(540) 458-8782