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Law360 (December 2, 2020, 6:26 PM EST) -- Balch & Bingham LLP has created a program providing free or low-cost legal services to minority- and women-owned businesses as the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic hardships rage on, the firm announced Wednesday.
The program is dubbed Balch Business Boost and will debut in most cities with Balch offices: Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama; Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia; Gulfport and Jackson, Mississippi; Jacksonville, Florida; and Houston.
In order to qualify, businesses will have to be either woman- or minority-owned, have less than an average $400,000 in annual operating revenue over the past two years, and have less than $500,000 in assets or $250,000 in liquid assets. Each Balch office will work with community organizations to identify eligible businesses and entrepreneurs facing financial hardship, the firm said.
According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce poll released in August, minority-owned businesses are disproportionately likely to be more worried about closing their doors this year than non-minority businesses, 66% to 57%. The same poll found minority-owned businesses are slightly more likely to be denied a loan to weather the pandemic than non-minority businesses, 13% to 8%.
John Pickering, a Balch partner based in Birmingham, Alabama, told Law360 those numbers led the firm to think of ways to help businesses beyond their existing pro bono system.
"It's a new way to address long-standing issues and problems," he said. "We plan to continue our more traditional pro bono efforts, but this is just another tool in the tool box."
Pickering noted that businesses that can't afford in-house counsel or frequent legal counsel are more vulnerable to potentially costly legal trouble.
Through the new program, Balch will help qualifying businesses navigate government regulations and provide advice on loans and credit lines, among other legal services. The firm may also help resolve disputes before they result in in-depth litigation, Pickering said.
"Our hope here is that we can provide a relatively small amount of advice and answer some key questions so the potential legal problem can be solved before it ends up being a big mess for a small business," he said. "By providing this service for free, we take away that cost impediment from a small business making that call."
--Editing by Philip Shea.
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