Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Brushes and Briefs: Arty types find help from a most unexpected source–lawyers.

Screenshot 2015-01-27 23.53.21Lawyers. Artists.

It’s not every day you think of these two different types of people together, joined in a common endeavor. But that’s what’s happening under a unique collaboration between attorneys, law students and creative folks.

Led by the Dauphin County Bar Association (DCBA) and Widener University School of Law’s Harrisburg Campus, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts helps artists with the unique legal issues they face. This assistance is provided at no charge to the artist or the arts organization.

“Artists are, for the most part, incredibly resilient people,” said Harrisburg photographer Dani Fresh. “But, sometimes, even we need help.”

Through the program, artists and arts groups contact the Dauphin County Bar Association, which assesses the applicant’s financial eligibility for pro bono (free) assistance. The DCBA then forwards potential cases to Widener Law students, who research the legal issues that artists may encounter.

“As a student, this is a win-win situation,” said Widener law student Victoria Beard, whose mother, a weaver, put together a craft cooperative in Waynesboro, Pa. “We can sharpen our skills as future attorneys, perfecting the art of asking questions and eliciting information. We can provide a valuable service to artists and arts organizations that lack the funds to hire an attorney for the help they really need.”

That help may entail such issues as intellectual property, contract disputes, sales, business information, landlord-tenant law, taxes and the creation of corporations, to name just a few. Students conduct client interviews and develop necessary case files that are passed on to licensed attorneys.

Legal issues can become overwhelming to an artist as he or she attempts to establish a career or continues to pursue a career.

“This is an underserved community with unmet legal needs,” said Widener Law School Associate Professor Michael J. Hussey, who joined Professor Juliet M. Moringiello in helping found the program with the DCBA.

Hussey adds that the program allows artists the freedom to pursue their art while volunteer lawyers and law students help to protect their legal interests.

“This program helps artists identify and avoid legal risks when possible,” said Liz Simcox, executive director of the DCBA. “It raises artists’ awareness of the resources available from the DCBA and other organizations when legal representation is needed.”

Bar Association Pro Bono Coordinator Sandy Ballard plays a key role in coordinating this project.

“This is a great opportunity for artists and small arts organizations to find the help they need to become stronger and more successful,” she said.

However, it also benefits the students, as they learn to apply their education while developing their talents and skills through volunteer opportunities before facing the pressures of working in a law firm.

“Law students learn valuable business skills while working with lawyers and artists,” said Ballard.

Since Sept. 15, Lawyers for the Arts has accepted requests from artists and arts organizations through the DCBA Lawyer Referral Service, which assists individuals in identifying private attorneys appropriate to their needs. Students and faculty of Widener review applications. The DCBA then refers selected applicants to participating local attorneys for representation.

“Through this program, everyone in central Pennsylvania will be enriched by the creativity of our thriving arts community,” said Hussey.

Harrisburg artist Liz Laribee agreed, adding that the need for legal services will only increase as the city’s already-vibrant art community continues to grow.

“With the number of creative professionals and entrepreneurs honing their craft here, it’s encouraging to see efforts to buffer their work against risk,” she said. “I love when concentric circles of the ecosystem work together in such creative ways. It makes for a better outcome and a greater city.”

For more information or to become involved in Volunteer Lawyers for Arts, contact Sandy Ballard at 717-232-7536, ext. 7, or

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