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2012 Minnesota Minority Small Business Champion

Release Date: 
Monday, April 2, 2012
Release Number: 
Advisory Date: 
Friday, April 13, 2012
Advisory Number: 
Sherree Stratton (612) 370-2325

SBA Names Minnesota
Minority Small Business Champion

MINNEAPOLIS – Mary Alton, Professor and Director of the University of Minnesota Business Law Clinic, has been named the Minnesota Minority Small Business Champion of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.  The Business Law Clinic is a component of the University of Minnesota Law School’s Corporate Institute.

The Minority Small Business Champion award is presented annually in each state to individuals who assist small businesses through outstanding advocacy efforts on behalf of minority-owned small businesses. Yvonne Cheung Ho, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA), nominated Mary Alton for this award.

In 2001 Mary founded the Business Law Clinic at the University of Minnesota Law School to provide quality, transactional pro bono legal services to minority small business interests in Minnesota.  The Business Law Clinic filled an urgent need.  At the time of its creation, no such resource existed for minority entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Initially partnering with the law firm of Faegre & Benson as supervising attorneys, and with University of Minnesota Law School students performing the actual client contact and legal tasks, Mary then worked with MEDA to establish a pipeline of clients that could participate in the clinic and gain free legal representation. 

Over the past decade the Business Law Clinic has expanded to include supervising attorneys from several Twin Cities’ law firms, solo practitioners, and in-house counsel from companies like Target Corporation.  The Business Law Clinic’s client base still incudes primarily MEDA clients and referrals but has also expanded to represent clients referred through other channels, such as the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, the Carlson School of Management’s Business Hatchery and Entrepreneurship in Action classes, and non-profit organizations.  The clinic has provided services to more than 200 clients, on matters ranging from entity formation to asset purchase and stock transfers to intellectual property protection. 

Mary’s role in the Business Law Clinic is pivotal.  She provides the contact point for potential referrals, screens the clients for suitability, matches student teams and supervising attorneys with clients, and oversees the process of representation at every stage. 

For Mary, this is not merely a responsibility that is part of her role as program director and clinical faculty for the Law School’s Corporate Institute.  It is a personal commitment and an obvious labor of pride and professionalism.  With her guidance, the student attorneys and their lawyer supervisors come to empathize with their clients’ interests and treat these clients with the upmost respect and skill. 

Mary brings a broad base of experience to her work with minority business clients.  She has worked as an educator, a private practitioner, a commercial alternative dispute resolution trainer and provider, a business-plan developer and a small-business organizational consultant, and an entrepreneur.  After she obtained her JD from Hamline University School of Law in 1981, she developed a solo law practice and was an entrepreneurial pioneer in developing for-profit mediation services, when alternative dispute resolution was still considered a “fad.”

She is an expert in the facilitated mediation of lending, insurance, small business, and employment matters.  Her career path includes eight years as a public school special education teacher and one at Hamline University as Director of its Special and Local Laws Research and Index Project.  In addition to more than a decade as an entrepreneur herself with her own law practice, she also founded a business providing mediation services called Metaccord, LTD.  She served in the Humphrey Institute, Farm Credit Mediation Program for six years.  This past February, under her coaching, her University of Minnesota ABA Negotiation Team brought home the National Championship.

Her students and clients reap the benefits of her long and varied career.


For more information:

Mary Alton
Professor and Director
Business Law Clinic
University of Minnesota Law School Corporate Institute
229 – 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455

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