The year 2020 will forever be remembered not only for COVID-19 and the start of a global pandemic but also for multiple tragic events that put a spotlight on institutional racism and its impact on Black communities.
When the law firm of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC questioned how it could do its part to address such issues in its own community, the answer was obvious: by doing what the firm does best.
The result is the Legal Equity Advancement Program (LEAP), an initiative that awards a grant of legal services to Black-owned or operated businesses in Southcentral Pennsylvania.
“Our firm is a commercial law firm. Nearly all of our clients are businesses,” says Esch McCombie, an attorney with McNees and co-chair of LEAP. “For us, it seemed to make the most sense to focus on the type of work we do every day to support Black-owned businesses that might benefit from our services in an effort to break down barriers faced by those businesses.”
Applications for the 2022 program will be accepted through Oct. 29
The firm chose its first five awardees from more than 80 applicants last fall. The recipients each received a year’s worth of legal services valued at up to $50,000. They were: MoversFor.Me, a West Shore moving company; Stick N Move Boxing, a York nonprofit; Na‘Toria Marketing and Design, a Harrisburg marketing firm; CheerNotes, a Harrisburg greeting card business; and the Lancaster restaurant Blazin’ J’s.
McNees will choose five more award recipients in February from the eight-county region that includes Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, Franklin, Adams, York, Lancaster and Lebanon counties. An additional one or two recipients will be selected from Ohio, where McNees also has an office.
Applicants must be more than 50% Black-owned or Black-controlled and have limited financial resources. They cannot be current McNees clients.
“Many small businesses often lack the funds necessary to pay for sophisticated legal services,” McCombie says. “The support network for Black-owned businesses, including mentorship, access to funding, and access to sophisticated legal work, can also be lacking at times.”
LEAP recipients can utilize any area of legal expertise that McNees offers, except for litigation, McCombie says.
Small businesses with few financial resources often delay acting on legal issues until they become a necessity. Other times, they are simply not aware of important legal actions that could help them immediately or down the road, such as creating an employee handbook, he says.
“Certainly, there’s been a lot of work that we’ve done that the clients weren’t even aware existed or aware that it could help them,” McCombie says.
For its first round of clients, McNees has done intellectual property work, such as trademarks and copyrights, general business counseling on labor and employment, contracts and setting up an LLC, to name just a few.
“Some of what we’re doing are things they need now, whether it’s a lease agreement for a property, a partnership agreement, a trademark or copyright,” McCombie says. “Other work is creating a foundation and setting our clients up for the future.”
The LEAP program also offers educational and networking opportunities.
McNees will narrow down its initial pool of applicants based on basic criteria and then solicit a more robust application. In January, it will narrow the group of applicants to about a dozen who will be interviewed. In making its decision, McNees will also consider factors such as the type of business, its age, ownership structure and whether it can truly benefit from what McNees has to offer.
“We look for a business that likely will have a need for our legal services,” McCombie says. “We want to make sure clients are spending as close as possible to that 50,000 to make sure they’re getting the full benefit of the program.”
To apply for a LEAP award, eligible business owners must complete an initial eligibility application at mcneeslaw.com/leap-application-2021. Applications must be received by 5 p.m. Oct. 29.