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WJA 2022: Danielle Merrick

Danielle MerrickUMKC

Danielle Merrick has good reason to enjoy the morning commute through her hometown.

“I guess from a purely egotistical standpoint when I drive to and from work every day I can see, on pretty much any street I go on, a business that I’ve had a hand in helping in some capacity,” said the 45-year-old Kansas Citian who may have assisted with anything from a phone conversation to a contract review. “Even though I’m behind the scenes and nobody knows, I can see my fingerprints all over this city.”

Those fingerprints come in the form of her work at the Entrepreneurial Legal Services and Intellectual Property Law clinics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where start-up owners with limited resources can come for assistance with getting their ideas off the ground. Merrick’s been on the campus of her alma mater for 18 years teaching contract drafting to students while also assisting would-be business owners as a clinical professor.

“Dani Merrick is a lawyer to the entrepreneurial class, clients with passion, working out of garages, spare rooms, and community centers,” writes her nominator. “Her clients do not come with venture capital behind them. They come with dreams and guts to make their visions come true.”

Merrick considers her efforts at the clinics to be an extension of her earlier career as a social worker, a field she spent a year in before becoming a lawyer.

“The fact that I get to run low-income clinics and help low-income people means that I get to be a social worker still,” she said.

Assisting with everything from trademarks to formation documents, Merrick’s clinics assist 100-150 clients a year.

“I’m basically helping them get their legal house in order so that they can focus their attention on actually being entrepreneurs,” she said.

Moreover, the clients aren’t the only one to see a benefit from the process.

“I regularly get comments from the students that this was one of their best experiences in law school,” she said.

In addition to her on-campus work, Merrick is also executive director of Kansas City Volunteer Lawyers & Accountants for the Arts, a group she’s headed since 2010.

Merrick said she hopes in the future to be able to help even more entrepreneurs by eventually expanding the clinics’ reach.

“We have to turn away a lot of clients,” she said. “We don’t turn them away in that we are not willing to see them but more that we have such a waiting list that they end up doing it themselves or finding services in other locations.”

Women's Justice Awards 2022