Justice Center Hosts Visionary Lawyer Janelle Orsi as G. Rollie White Scholar in Residence

February 13-14, the Justice Center hosted visionary lawyer Janelle Orsi as the G. Rollie White Scholar in Residence. Orsi is the Executive Director & Co-Founder of the Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland, which facilitates the growth of more sustainable and localized economies through education, research, and advocacy. Orsi also has her own law practice focused on helping individuals and organizations share resources and create more sustainable communities. Her primary areas of legal specialty are real estate, small business, nonprofit, and estate planning law.

While at the law school, Orsi met individually with students, participated in a class of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic, and spoke at two public events. At an event entitled “The Next Legal Profession: Lawyers Creating Sustainable Local Economies,” Orsi spoke and joined a panel discussion with local lawyers whose transactional practices promote social justice – Andrea Harrington of  Texas RioGrande Legal Aid’s Legal Assistance to Microenterprises Project; John Vinson, an Austin attorney who specializes in co-operative organizations law; and Eliza Platts-Mills of Texas Law’s Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic. Orsi and the panelists described their work and considered how lawyers – and particularly transactional lawyers – will play a key role in developing the legal blueprint for the next economy.

Orsi also gave formal talk in the Eidman Courtroom – “Making the Sharing Economy Work for Everyone.” According to Orsi, the sharing economy, from tool lending libraries, to municipal bike shares, to multi-billion dollar online platforms like Uber and Airbnb, is spreading rapidly, but “while there are clear environmental and social benefits, the sharing economy has not yet proven itself to be a complete remedy for social inequities and environmental ills, particularly when profit-driven companies act as intermediaries of peer-to-peer sharing.”  Orsi discussed the rapidly changing state of the sharing economy as well as ways in which the sharing economy could be, and in some cases is already, a transformative force for social and environmental justice.

According to Platts-Mills of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic, “Orsi’s visit was inspiring to students, faculty, and members of the greater Austin community alike. Her clear, out of the box thinking and her direct, warm communication style drew us in, as did her description of a kinder, more collaborative world where people share resources rather than extracting as much as they can for themselves. In an era when income inequality is greater than ever, it was so important to hear Janelle’s vision. She made all of us stop and think.”

Orsi’s visit as a G. Rollie White Public Interest Scholar was supported by a generous gift from the G. Rollie White Trust. The program brings outstanding legal scholars, practitioners and advocates from the field of public service to Texas Law to foster discussion of issues related to public interest law, to raise the profile of lawyers working in this area, and to encourage students to view public service as an honored and expected part of every legal career. Orsi is Texas Law’s sixth G. Rollie White Public Interest Scholar.

The UT Opportunity Forum cosponsored Orsi’s formal talk. Student organization cosponsors included the Committee of Law and Technology at Texas, the Environmental Law Society, the National Lawyer Guild Texas Law Chapter, the Public Interest Law Association, and the Texas Business Law Society.

In addition to her work with the Sustainable Economies Law Center and her private practice, Orsi is also the author of “Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy.” For more information about Orsi, see http://www.theselc.org/staff