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Joseph F. Rice School of Law

  • Ben Means lecturing


Our mission is to support the resilience of family and small businesses.

As the first law school in the country to offer a family and small business program, South Carolina Law offers resources and networking opportunities for South Carolina business owners. Additionally, classes and applied learning opportunities that integrate business and family considerations give law students the skills and perspective that they need to represent family businesses effectively. Finally, South Carolina Law seeks to identify risk factors for family and small businesses and to advocate for practical solutions.

Like traditional law and entrepreneurship programs, we focus on how to build and scale a business. However, we believe that it is equally important to establish a strong foundation so that a business can be sustained for the lasting benefit of family and community. Some businesses grow rapidly; others are content to stay small and local. Businesses in their fifth generation of ownership matter as much as businesses that are brand new and founder led. 

Key Issues for Family & Small Businesses

Woman next to portrait


No one lives forever. When there is a leadership transition, whether because of death, incapacity, or retirement, many businesses fail. Often, this consequence could have been avoided with foresight and planning. Whether the goal is to sell to employees or an external buyer or to transfer control to a new generation of family owners, business owners cannot simply wait and expect that things will work out for the best. Carefully considered and regularly updated succession planning is a crucial component of family business resilience.



In a family business, each stakeholder occupies one or more of the following three roles: family member, business owner, and business employee or manager. Some participants occupy all three roles simultaneously; others may be family owners but not managers. The governance challenge is managing the expectations of family stakeholders in different positions of authority and risk taking. Generic governance best practices need to be adapted to fit the needs of the business. For example, some family businesses create a separate family advisory board to communicate with family stakeholders.

Woman in front of sign


Tax rules and other regulations have increased in complexity, making it a challenge for well-intentioned business owners to keep track of what is necessary. Many regulations serve essential purposes, including public safety and worker protection, so it is crucial to ensure that businesses are well informed and have the resources they need to meet their compliance obligations.

Man walking in field


Every South Carolina family and small business should identify key vulnerabilities and make adjustments to enhance its resilience to disaster. This planning should include the safety and wellbeing of employees, data security, and the ability to overcome business disruptions. The resilience of locally owned businesses is integral to the resilience of their communities.

Gavel and books


Especially when co-owners are family members, it can be hard to anticipate the possibility of serious disagreements. Experienced lawyers can help navigate these disputes when they arise to preserve business value and, if possible, to avoid further rupturing of family relationships.

Ben Means and business owner


For many family and small businesses, especially those that are located in rural communities, it can be hard to find affordable legal and accounting services or to find a bank willing to extend credit. These challenges can be exacerbated for business owners who serve historically underrepresented and disadvantaged communities. By partnering with the S.C. Bar and with organizations including the S.C. Small Business Development Center, SCORE, and S.C. Competes, the Family and Small Business Program is working to address the gap in access to financial and legal support.

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