What does Janelle Orsi have in common with the Dalai Lama, Buckminster Fuller, Mahatma Gandhi, and Dr. Seuss? She joins them as one of 100 individuals named on the (En)Rich list of inspirational leaders whose work contributes to a sustainable future.
I was introduced to Janelle by Jenny Kassan last year—they both co-founded the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) in 2009. Based in Oakland, California, SELC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides legal resources, education, and advocacy to support more sustainable, localized, and just economies.
Meet Janelle Orsi, a leading attorney for the sharing economy
Janelle continues to actively run SELC, serving as its Executive Director. She also manages a law practice focused on meeting the needs of the sharing economy. The sharing economy encompasses social enterprises, collaborative consumption startups, local food initiatives, cooperatives, and co-housing projects that are shifting the way we seek, use, and spend on products, services, and space.
How is Janelle a leading attorney in the space? She wrote the book on the topic, literally.
In 2012 ABA published her latest book, “Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy: Helping People Build Cooperatives, Social Enterprise, and Local Sustainable Economies”.
Listen to the interview
I had a chance to catch up with Janelle for the first time at a coffee shop in downtown Oakland, along with SELC staffer and law apprentice Christina Oatfield in 2012. More recently, we sat down to learn more about her path to social impact law, her interest in the sharing economy, and the future challenges and successes she envisions.
- Janelle was originally interested in defending juveniles in the court system
- Her focus shifted after taking a transactional law class taught by Professor Bill Kell at Berkeley
- She then looked at the types of organizations that impact change—and focused on shared resources (i.e. car-sharing, shared housing, food cooperatives, etc.)
- She started her own practice in “sharing law” out of law school because this was an emerging field
- She has been surprised by barriers encountered in sharing economy—regulations that were intended to protect, but don’t fit will in highly-collaborative, highly-democratic sharing initiatives
- Has seen that even in the past 3 years, we have gone from not using the phrase “sharing economy” to an explosion of the use of the phrase. She foresees the sharing economy and social enterprise will bump up against the existing law, causing law to evolve to include these new ways of thinking of consumption and business.
- Her advice for attorneys and law graduates interested in this field: start a law practice
SELC goal: raise $300K in 2013
SELC has some exciting projects it is working on, including building a legal apprenticeship program, hosting a regular “legal cafe” to make law more accessible to those in the community, and working on legislation to legalize cooperative housing. An overarching goal for SELC is to raise $300K in 2013.
Learn more in the cartoon (ahem, with narration and guitar by Janelle!)