When attorneys at McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC saw the events around the death of George Floyd unfold in Minneapolis, they knew they needed to do something.
“The firm was thinking about what we could do to bridge the gap and address systemic racism in our country,” said Adeolu Bakare, an attorney at McNees, a law firm based in Harrisburg.
This past summer, they created their Legal Equity Advancement Program (LEAP) to provide pro bono services to local Black-owned businesses.
Small businesses in south-central Pennsylvania that are more than 50% Black-owned and could not otherwise afford legal services are eligible to apply. McNees will choose five clients to take on.
McNees will provide a year’s worth of free legal assistance for anything from tax work to setting up entities or for insurance or real estate needs, said attorney Esch McCombie, who leads the LEAP program with Bakare. Each client will have a $50,000 retainer for services.
McCombie expects a wide range of businesses to apply. So far, he said that applications have come in from places like an auto repair shop, a nail salon and a mentoring organization. Each would have very different needs, he said.
Bakare said that they spoke with community groups such as the African American Chamber of Commerce and the Young Professionals of Color-Greater Harrisburg when designing this program. Local professionals such as a realtor and civil engineer also offered their assistance to businesses chosen for the program, McCombie added.
“As attorneys, we have a moral obligation to do what we can to make sure everyone is provided with legal representation,” Bakare said.
Giving back to the community through pro bono work is a big part of McNees’ mission. Attorneys are allowed 50 of their work hours per year for pro bono work.
Bakare also explained a partnership the company has with the Dauphin County Bar Association to invite minority first-year law students to their summer internship program. This gives them a leg up, considering most law students don’t complete internships until their second year. The program, Bakare said, has been very successful.
Considering the work that McNees was already doing for local minority and low-income communities, the LEAP initiative was “a no brainer,” McCombie said.
Applications for the Leap initiative are open through Dec. 11 and Black-owned businesses are encouraged to apply.
“Our hope is that the program takes off and we can do this again next year,” McCombie said.
For more information about the Legal Equity Advancement Program or to apply, visit McNees’ website.
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