Black people and other minority groups face multiple challenges in setting up and operating businesses in the United States. Some include the lack of access to capital, institutional racism and inadequate access to legal services.
According to a survey by LegalShield, about 60% of small businesses, including Black-owned businesses, experienced significant legal events, however, about 54% of those businesses did not seek the services of an attorney to help them deal with those issues. Many of them (57%) reportedly said they did not seek medical help because they believed they could hand it on their own while around 40% said they were concerned about the cost of an attorney.
To bridge the gap on legal access, a law firm has committed to offering free legal services to Black-owned companies. Vorys Sater Seymour & Pease with offices in Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia, has launched a program dubbed Initiative for Business Empowerment to provide legal services to companies owned by Blacks and other minority groups to navigate the challenges associated with business ownership.
Janay Stevens, a Vorys senior associate and the lawyer behind the project told ColumbusCEO that the initiative will offer free foundational legal services like setting up an LLC, setting up operating agreements, trademark and copyright assistance, help to determine if a worker is a contractor or employee, or how to set up an employee handbook.
“One of the things that a number of businesses have pointed out is that even though they might have been in operation for a year, five years, 15 years, 20 years, in some cases, they don’t necessarily have contracts in place for the exchange of their services, whatever those might be,” Stevens says.
“They’re oftentimes emails or handshake-type agreements. We see that as an opportunity to put pen to paper and help you protect your interests.” She goes on to say, “We have to make this more than just a moment in time. To make true systemic change, we’ve got to get our hands dirty, we’ve got to do the work. At the end of the day, this has got to be bigger than 2020.”
The initiative, which has more than 20 lawyers, is for businesses at all stages and to apply, one can go to Vorys’website. “We have to make this more than just a moment in time,” she says. “To make true systemic change, we’ve got to get our hands dirty, we’ve got to do the work. At the end of the day, this has got to be bigger than 2020.”