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Individual Rights & Responsibilities

Access to Civil Justice: How Lawyers
Can Create Small Business Opportunities

Andrea Ball and Peter Manzo

Bayard Rustin once observed, "What good is being able to sit at a lunch counter, if you can’t afford the hamburger?" Increasingly, civil rights advocates are exploring a range of strategies and collaborative efforts to counter discrimination and improve economic opportunities in minority and low- income communities. These efforts benefit from the skills and contributions of lawyers with experience in transactional work, business, banking, and tax law.

Public Counsel, the Los Angeles affiliate of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, recently instituted a microbusiness project to provide legal assistance to efforts designed to foster development of small businesses in underserved communities throughout Los Angeles. Public Counsel staff and pro bono attorneys assist small business entrepreneurs with basic counseling and review of agreements and negotiating contracts. The project also assists microenterprise lenders with legal needs, such as incorporation, drafting loan agreements, and security documents. It helped structure the One-Stop Capital Shop—a center in South Central Los Angeles at which small business owners will find information on financing options and technical assistance, and can confer with lenders offering the entire range of SBA lending and investment programs.

The ABA also devotes re-sources to the issue of community economic development. The Commission on Homelessness and Poverty conducts training and prepares materials to encourage volunteer legal work with microenterprise programs and affordable housing. Currently, the Commission is preparing a manual on how lawyers in all practice areas can be of assistance to microenterprise programs and entrepreneurs. Other ABA entities, such as the Commission on Domestic Violence, have included the topic of microenterprise programs in recent meeting agendas. The ABA Business Law Section sponsors A Business Commitment, a collaborative program with National Legal Aid and Defenders Association to match business law attorneys with specific pro bono clients who are in need of transactional legal help.

Clearly, the expanding scope of civil rights advocacy provides opportunities for lawyers from all backgrounds to make meaningful contributions to their communities.

Andrea Ball is co-chair of the IR&R Section Committee on Access to Civil Justice and a volunteer attorney with Public Counsel. Peter Manzo is directing attorney for Public Counsel’s Community Development Programs.

This article is an abridged and edited version of one that originally appeared in Human Rights, Fall 1996 (23:4).

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