BigLaw Puts Brawn Behind Pro Bono Black Business Efforts

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As the nation celebrates Black History Month this February, more BigLaw firms have joined the movement to combat racism and inequality by helping Black business owners in their community.

On Thursday, Morrison & Foerster LLP announced that it has launched an accelerator program to assist Black-owned businesses with pro bono legal services. California-based law firm Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP earlier in the month also said that it will provide pro bono legal services, as well as a four-year financial pledge to help support SoLa Impact's Black Impact Fund, an initiative recently launched to attract $1 billion in new investment into African American and Latino communities in major urban markets.

These commitments are just the latest of many ways law firms have promised to contribute to the nationwide fight for equal rights. In the wake of George Floyd's killing and civil unrest that followed last summer, law firms across the country launched a flood of initiatives to combat racism, including many that specifically look to uplift members of the Black community.

"Black entrepreneurs have had to confront economic under-inclusion and unfair obstacles to full participation in the economy for too long. We did not want to be casual observers to injustice and decided to do something about it," Morrison & Foerster corporate partner and leader of its Black Venture Accelerator Dario de Martino said in a statement to Law360 Pulse. "This is part of a series of sustained, long-term activities that we think are necessary to ensure that this important work gets done."

According to the firm, a committee consisting of partners, associates, diversity and inclusion specialists, and practice areas experts will be available to provide legal advice for the Black entrepreneurs. They will offer other resources, such as mentorship, networking opportunities and professional connections to the business owners.

Qualified candidates, which must be at least 50% Black-owned, have until March 19 to apply to the program. Morrison & Foerster has not determined how many applications it will accept for the annual program.

"That will largely depend on the volume of resources that each applicant will require," the firm said.

Birmingham, Alabama-based Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP also launched a Black-owned small business and nonprofit clinic in January, partnering with the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville and its Volunteer Lawyers & Professionals for the Arts program to provide accessible and affordable business-oriented legal services to Black-owned small businesses and nonprofits.

And last fall, Baker Botts LLP formed an alliance with Official Black Wall Street, an organization consisting of more than 5,500 Black-owned businesses, to provide legal support to the organization's member businesses.

The Houston-based firm has committed to providing $10 million of free legal services over the course of three years.

--Editing by Michael Watanabe.

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