Mary Alton Named Minn. Minority Small Business Champion of the Year
APRIL 13, 2012—The U.S. Small Business Administration has named Professor Mary Alton the Minnesota Minority Small Business Champion of the Year. A champion is selected in each state annually for outstanding advocacy efforts on behalf of minority-owned small businesses.
Alton is director of the University of Minnesota Business Law Clinic, which provides free legal services to Minnesota minority entrepreneurs and small-business owners. Second- and third-year law students, under the supervision of Alton and clinic faculty, interview clients and work with them on contracts, business formation, and other legal issues. Alton also teaches transactional lawyering skills, coaches the ABA Negotiation Competition team, and is the student adviser for the J.D./M.B.A. joint degree program.
Founded in 2001, the Business Law Clinic initially partnered with Faegre & Benson, which provided supervising attorneys. Alton worked with the Twin Cities' Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) to draw clients needing free legal representation. Supervising attorneys now come from firms across the metro area and include solo practitioners and in-house counsel from large companies. Clients may come from non-profit organizations and other areas but the majority still are MEDA referrals. MEDA President and CEO Yvonne Cheung Ho nominated Alton for this award.
Alton screens potential clinic clients for suitability, matches them with student teams and supervising attorneys, and manages the process from beginning to end. To date, more than 200 clients have benefited from her professional and personal commitment. And dozens of law students have gained the communication, problem-solving, negotiation, and drafting skills necessary to successfully practice business law.
The Business Law Clinic is a program component of the Corporate Institute, which brings together outstanding business law faculty, leading companies, and law firms in support of programs and initiatives reflective of this area of excellence at the Law School. Alton serves as program director and clinical faculty at the Corporate Institute and supervises the Corporate Externship Program. "This award is a well-deserved recognition of Professor Alton's dedication to both our students and the minority business community," says Corporate Institute Director Professor John Matheson.
After completing her J.D. at Hamline University School of Law, Alton was a solo law practitioner for a decade. She also founded a mediation practice for small business, employment, personal injury, and family law matters before alternative dispute resolution was taken seriously by the practicing bar. She offered mediator training and mediation services. She served in the Farm Credit Mediation Program at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs for six years, taught special education in public school for eight years, and directed a Special and Local Laws Research and Index Project at Hamline University. The Minnesota Minority Small Business Champion of the Year award is a fitting expression of the value her entrepreneurial, business planning, and teaching experience bring to the Law School.