A group of 34 law firms, including Kirkland & Ellis, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Goodwin Procter and Covington & Burling, are joining together with the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation to help small business owners make sense of how to secure support through the federal government’s COVID-19 stimulus package.
The project is getting off the ground first in New York City, where Kirkland & Ellis pro bono counsel Jacqueline Haberfeld was one of a number of law firm representatives who approached the City Bar Justice Center with the idea of building a program aiding small businesses.
“The City Bar Justice Center in New York is a tremendous resource for New Yorkers of modest means providing all kinds of services in good times and bad. They’re the first to respond with services that are created just in time for crises like this,” Haberfeld said.
The New York clinic, which is expected to open early next week, will bring together lawyers from at least 26 firms to help guide small business owners in determining what help is available through the package that passed the House earlier Friday, and also assist them in filing for grants and loans available through various federal, state, and local programs.
The goal is then to roll out the program across the U.S., drawing on a model that the City Bar Justice Center established after the 9/11 attacks. Akira Arroyo, who directs the organization’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project, launched what was initially called the Small Business Initiative to help ensure their survival.
“That project has in 20 years since then helped over 15,000 entrepreneurs launch businesses,” said City Bar Justice Center’s Kurt Denk. “When this crisis hit, she had the know-how already to get this up and running really quickly.”
No fewer than 26 firms have expressed interested in participating in the New York City-based program.
Nationally, Lawyers for Good Government Foundation, a nonprofit network of more than 125,000 legal advocates with lawyers in all 50 states, will partner with local nonprofit and legal service organizations and give law firms the resources and tools required to manage the program in each city. Qualifying small businesses with 25 or fewer employees will be offered free 45-minute consultations.
“Our focus is how to scale really huge national and international legal projects, and how to create tech platforms that can be replicated,” said Lawyers for Good Government executive director Traci Feit Love.
She said that five to 10 additional cities will be part of the first phase of the national effort, and that they will be launched in the next two weeks. The organization will then assess interest in other locations.
“When we asked law firms to express interest in the program, we asked them to tell us where they can help,” Feit Love said. “From that data, we concluded there are at least 30 cities where law firms that already signed up with us were ready and wiling to help. Our initial target was to cover 25 to 50 of the largest cities in the U.S. or confirm that these services were being covered by other groups.”
Other firms signing on include Katten Muchin Rosenman; Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone; Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel; Steptoe & Johnson LLP; and Cohen & Siegel.
The effort is moving forward in parallel to a similar program launched by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison on Tuesday that aims to make sense of relief opportunities available to individual Americans and small businesses through federal, state and local governments.
According to reports, the COVID-19 stimulus package passed by Congress will include $350 billion in aid to small businesses. This includes up to eight weeks of cash flow assistance to qualifying companies.