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Partnering on Pro Bono with the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project

by CBJC Staff April 18, 2012

Following training by the City Bar Justice Center, last week ten attorneys from New York Life Insurance Company and their law firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, assisted micro-entrepreneurs at a small business legal clinic in Harlem. The clinic was organized by the Justice Center’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) in partnership with the New York City Business Solutions – Upper Manhattan Center.

Over the course of the evening, the attorneys met one-on-one with twenty entrepreneurs who were either starting up a new business or had issues with an existing one. Businesses spanned the areas of fashion, jewelry, household products, restaurants, consulting, architecture and furniture. Several of the consulting sessions were conducted in Spanish.

The entrepreneurs received advice and guidance on matters including the appropriate legal structure for their businesses, corporate formation procedures and costs, reviewing of business contracts, small business employment issues, and intellectual property protection. Those entrepreneurs who require ongoing legal assistance will have the opportunity to apply for direct pro bono representation through NELP. Several attendees had contracts reviewed.

With a dozen projects in the areas of Economic and Immigrant Justice, the Justice Center offers lawyers a wide variety of pro bono work to choose from. NELP is popular with lawyers for a couple of reasons. One is that it allows transactional lawyers the opportunity to share their business-oriented skills directly with micro-entrepreneurs. The other is that it seems conducive to partnerships between law firms and their in-house clients.

“I think it’s a combination of the clinic model NELP often utilizes, which lends itself to teamwork, along with the subject matter,” said Lynn Kelly, Executive Director of the Justice Center. “A lot of these lawyers have a real entrepreneurial mindset themselves, so they get a kick out of helping people start up their own businesses.”

Judy Hopkins, Assistant General Counsel at New York Life, said, “It was such a pleasure to partner with Morgan Lewis outside of our typical litigation matters and focus on providing a social good to aspiring entrepreneurs. We all learned so much from this rewarding experience. We look forward to working with Morgan Lewis on similar projects in the future.”

“Partnering with New York Life has been a wonderful experience,” said Amanda D. Smith, Pro Bono Partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. “We get to develop a deeper relationship with our clients and leverage our skills to help low income entrepreneurs at the same time. A win-win!”

Micro-entrepreneurs who can’t afford a lawyer can apply for NELP’s pro bono services by calling their intake line at 212-382-6633, or email nelp(at)nycbar.org. Lawyers wishing to volunteer on NELP can fill out an online volunteer form.

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