How Lawyers Are Making a Difference to Small Businesses Battling COVID-19

Brittany Lischinsky
Small business owners who already operate on narrow profit margins are crucial to the strength of our communities and often need a helping hand.

Small business owners who already operate on narrow profit margins are crucial to the strength of our communities and often need a helping hand.

FG Trade via iStock

COVID-19 has forced us into unprecedented times, and many small business owners who already operate on narrow profit margins now face additional challenges. These businesses are crucial to the strength of our communities and often need a helping hand.

To support these businesses, Kirkland & Ellis partnered with the New York City Bar Justice Center and Lawyers for Good Government to create the NYC COVID-19 Small Business Remote Legal Clinic (clinic). The clinic offers guidance to those seeking federal, state, and city grants and loans, as well as legal advice relating to six legal topics: business contracts/force majeure clauses, labor and employment, commercial leases, insurance, tax, and dissolution/bankruptcy. While the clinic first launched in New York City, it has expanded to many other jurisdictions, and any licensed attorney can volunteer anywhere the clinic has operations.

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Although I usually practice antitrust law, I wanted to volunteer at the clinic because of how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the commercial real estate sector.

The clinic matched me with a small business owner whose company could not pay rent due to the shutdown. Although the company had spoken to its landlord, the parties could not agree upon any alternative arrangement because the landlord also had to consider its own financial obligations connected with the property.

 New Skills

As I dug into the matter, my pro bono work allowed me to expand my practice and gain exposure to a new area of law. After conducting research, I coordinated with the supervising real estate partner; he confirmed which of the terms in the lease and riders were helpful to the client and clarified how the client could use them. I then explained these options to the client, which, fortunately, included a way to terminate the lease without liability for future rent payments.

Without volunteering for the clinic, I likely would have never come across this type of matter.

I not only gained confidence by learning new skills and problem-solving in an area that was new to me, but I also felt fulfilled because I changed the life of a small business owner. Also, I connected with a partner at my firm with whom I likely would not have otherwise crossed paths.

As a young lawyer, one of the best things you can do to increase your confidence is to step out of your comfort zone and learn a new skill. When thinking about trying a new practice area, you should first ensure you will have access to an experienced supervisor, whether at your workplace or elsewhere. The key is having access to someone with experience in the area of law that you will be offering the client guidance. Although you can get started learning about a new area through research, sometimes the application of concepts is different in practice, making it necessary to consult with someone more familiar with the practice area before advising clients.

Pro bono work creates countless opportunities. In many settings, it is an opportunity for you to take on more responsibility at an earlier seniority level than is usually possible in paying client matters. There has always been a need for pro bono legal services, but COVID-19 has exacerbated that need. There are numerous opportunities for attorneys at any stage of their career to volunteer.

Get Involved

If you are interested in pro bono work, check out your state bar association website for a list of available opportunities. The American Bar Association website similarly compiles a list of available pro bono opportunities. If you are interested in the COVID Small Business Clinic, you can visit the Lawyers for Good Government website to learn if a clinic is available in your jurisdiction. No matter where you live or work, there is a pro bono program that needs your help

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Brittany Lischinsky

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Brittany Lischinsky is an antitrust and competition associate in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. She advises clients and represents them before the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the state attorneys general in antitrust merger reviews.