Vol. 31, No. 5
Access to Justice
New Pro Bono Opportunities For Business Attorneys
by Kathleen J. Gebhardt
This month’s article was written by Kathleen Gebhardt, of Kathleen J. Gebhardt, L.L.C., Boulder—(303) 499-8859 or e-mail: email@example.com.
This department is printed six times per calendar year. Readers interested in contributing an article on legal services, pro bono, and access to justice topics should contact Kathleen Gebhardt at (303) 499-8859 or
Pro bono opportunities for business, tax, and transactional attorneys will soon increase due to the efforts of the recently created Business Task Force of the Colorado Lawyers’ Committee.1 Patterned after the efforts of the American Bar Association ("ABA") Section of Business Law Pro Bono Committee, the Task Force was established to bring together two different constituencies: business lawyers and community organizations. This article describes the priorities of the Task Force and the types of projects that have been successful in other states.
The Business Task Force’s first priority is a "needs assessment," which will be undertaken with the assistance of the staff of Colorado Legal Services ("CLS"). CLS staff and its Director, Jonathan Asher, will help "to establish priorities and identify potential partnerships" between business lawyers and community organizations.2 This coordination of effort is critical in determining needs, as well as the services required to meet these needs.
The Business Task Force has targeted three areas of need: (1) organizations that may want legal assistance by general counsel; (2) organizations involved in community economic development; and (3) economic development activities that will meet the defined needs in Colorado communities.3 When developing projects, members of the Business Task Force will evaluate issues in the Denver metropolitan area, as well as statewide. The examples below demonstrate that both urban and rural environments will benefit from the assistance.
ABA Projects in Other States
Several years ago, the ABA Section of Business Law Pro Bono Committee implemented a model that has since proven to be successful in developing and maintaining business/community partnerships. "ABC, A Business Commitment" ("ABC") was created in 1993 as a partnership between the ABA Section of Business Law and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. When it started, ABC had a commitment to provide business lawyers with opportunities to make pro bono contributions and provide expertise to community-based groups that could not afford to hire a lawyer. The ABA provided assistance to set up two pilot projects—one in Washington, D.C., and one in rural Georgia. Both projects have been very successful. In fact, these two model projects have been replicated in more than ten states since the initiation of the projects. Another project that serves as a clearinghouse in Detroit, Michigan, also has proven to be effective. Each of these is described below.
In Washington, D.C., the "Community Economic Development Pro Bono Project" ("CED Project") was started in 1998 and was operated by the D.C. Bar’s Public Service Activities Corporation. The CED Project has matched many community development organizations with large laws firms, such as the national law firm of Latham & Watkins, which provides ongoing representation of the East of River Community Development Corporation. The representation includes "helping the organization review and negotiate complicated business agreements relating to several projects to build townhomes and condominiums in a low-income neighborhood, as well as an effort to attract a major commercial tenant to anchor a large-scale retail center that would bring an influx of jobs to the neighborhood."4 The Director of the CED Project states:
Community development organizations have learned that they must take a broad look at their mission and seek comprehensive solutions. They are providing social services, producing affordable housing, carrying out job training, and lending funds to community entrepreneurs who can’t get help at a bank. Yet they have also learned that to survive in this era of reduced federal funding and ever increasing competition for foundation grants, they must be creative and entrepreneurial—spinning off for-profit subsidiaries, forming joint ventures, managing real estate, and merging with other groups. The problem they face is that they don’t have the budget to pay for the legal expertise to help plan, structure and implement these strategies.5
As a result of the efforts of the CED Project and other similar projects, lack of funds for legal fees should be less of an impediment to completing community development efforts.
In Georgia, the mission of the State Bar of Georgia ABC Project ("Georgia Project") is to "increase the capacities of rural economic development and community-based organization by providing free legal assistance on issues relating to their development and ongoing operations."6 One of the efforts undertaken by the Georgia Project responded to the need for transactional legal assistance when a rural community development group was awarded a $500,000 "Affordable Housing" grant to develop sixty new single-family homes. The Georgia Project arranged for a large Atlanta firm to provide the organization with the same legal assistance that a for-profit developer would need. It assisted the group with real estate closings, construction contracting, financing, tax, and record-keeping.7
In Detroit, Michigan, the Community Legal Resources is a community development clearinghouse that provides legal services for site rehabilitation and quiet title actions within the city of Detroit. The Michigan Legal Services, ABA Business Law Section Pro Bono Committee, and State Bar of Michigan developed this clearinghouse to revitalize neighborhood commercial environments through (1) façade design and physical improvement programs, (2) rehabilitation of abandoned buildings, and (3) community policing and anti-graffiti programs. The program also assists property owners in neighborhood commercial districts in obtaining financing for storefront improvements and has assisted the Detroit Business Association in incorporating a for-profit subsidiary to organize and sell underused land to private developers.8
Meeting Colorado’s Needs
Although ABC can act as a national clearinghouse that provides meaningful legal services to assist in such efforts as community development, such projects appear to be most effective if handled at the local level. Thus, while the successful efforts of other states are inspirational and educational, the Lawyer’s Committee Business Task Force intends to work with Colorado business, tax, and other transactional attorneys to design initiatives that best meet the needs of organizations in Colorado. It is with this endeavor in mind that Colorado attorneys are working to successfully launch the Task Force.9 Readers should contact the Colorado Business Task Force for more information.10
1. The Business Task Force comprises the following members: Tom Bieging, Bieging Shapiro & Burrus LLP; Bob Keatinge, Holland & Hart LLP; and Bill Callison, Faegre & Benson LLP.
2. Interview with Tom Bieging, March 18, 2002.
3. Id. See also note 9, infra.
4. The ABC Manual: Starting and Operating a Business Law Pro Bono Project (Chicago, IL: American Bar Association, Section of Business Law, Oct. 1, 2001). The Ford Foundation has developed a model community development survey available from ABC. Contacts to this program and programs from other states are also available from ABC. See note 7, infra.
5. Deborah Austin, Director, D.C. Bar CED Pro Bono Project, The ABC Manual, supra, note 4.
6. Supra, note 4.
7. For more information, readers may contact Guy E. Lescault, ABC Project, Pro Bono Committee, Georgia Legal Services Program, 1100 Spring St., Ste. 200A, Atlanta, GA 30309; phone: (404) 206-517; fax: (404) 206-5346; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.glsp.org. In addition to his work on the ABC Project’s Pro Bono Committee, Lescault has established a listserv with more than 100 members.
8. Supra, note 4.
9. Readers who would like to learn more about the Colorado Task Force or who are interested in participating in this exciting new opportunity may contact Thomas Bieging, Bieging, Shapiro & Burrus, 4582 S. Ulster St. Pkwy., Ste. 1650, Denver, CO 80237; phone: (720) 488-0220; fax: (720) 488-7711; website: www.bsblawyers.com.
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