Penn State Law to Launch New Rural Economic Development Clinic

Posted: August 22, 2010

Penn State Dickinson School of Law will be starting a Rural Economic Development legal clinic this fall

University Park, Pa. — Rural America is vastly different than it was 50 years ago. Prosperity for many rural communities depends on innovative income-generating strategies, such as extracting alternative energy sources. Today, agricultural producers need to be sophisticated business professionals. With one of the nation's largest rural populations, Pennsylvania's economy is dependent upon its rural communities.

This fall, Penn State Law will launch its new Rural Economic Development Clinic to support this important sector of our economy, giving law students hands-on learning experience in a wide variety of legal issues specifically faced by agricultural businesses and rural communities.

"Penn State and its law school have a long history of service to Pennsylvania’s rural communities. Since its inception in 1997, the Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center has conducted legal research and performed outreach on a variety of issues that affect rural communities," said Professor Ross Pifer, director of the center. "The establishment of the clinic will expand upon this work by providing legal services to individual clients and client organizations. As a result, law students and rural communities will benefit in a very practical way." Pifer also will direct the new legal clinic.

"Pennsylvania has a rich rural heritage and is home to more than 2.8 million rural residents," said Law School Dean Philip McConnaughay. "We want to provide students with the expertise to support the entrepreneurs and organizations that form the economic foundation of rural Pennsylvania."

Operating like a small private law firm, clinic students will work under the supervision of licensed attorneys and will handle a wide variety of legal issues encountered by agricultural businesses and rural communities under the supervision of licensed attorneys. The clinic will provide students interested in rural affairs and community development with the practical skills training required in any transactional legal practice, including interviewing, counseling, developing legal strategies, drafting legal documents and negotiation.

Clinic will tap deep roots in Pennsylvania economy

As one of Pennsylvania’s largest industries, agriculture has a profound impact on the Commonwealth’s economic success. This impact is most pronounced in rural communities where agricultural-related businesses remain a leading driver of economic development. Additionally, energy production, such as Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction, has the potential to transform Pennsylvania’s rural communities. As the role of energy production in Pennsylvania grows, so will the need for legal counsel to understand the myriad issues faced by businesses, landowners, and communities as a whole.

"Exposure to legal issues like the extraction of Marcellus Shale, an issue of great importance to Pennsylvania and our nation, will serve our students well as they move into the practice of law," said Assistant Dean for Career Services Gicine Brignola. The energy practice area is predicted to be a growth segment. Brignola sees the clinic as an important way for students to get the type of practical experience that makes them attractive to employers.

"Sound business skills are arguably the most important factors in the ultimate success of rural operations," said Pifer. "We will work with various individuals and organizations within the agricultural, food and energy sectors to assist in providing tools for successful business operation. Some examples of potential clients who could be served by the clinic include agricultural producers who need help in drafting a contract to market their goods using the Community Supported Agriculture model or who sell their produce to local restaurants."

According to Pifer, other services could include providing legal assistance with developing basic business plans and reviewing contracts, as well as reviewing leases for wind or solar produced energy.

If  interested in the services of the clinic send an email with the general nature of the legal issue to Ross Pifer at  All potential clients will be contacted to obtain any additional information necessary to determine if assistance can be provided.

Please view the website for the Penn State Dickenson Law School Rural Economic Development Clinic 

From the July 30, 2010 Penn State Live website.