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May 22, 2020

Drawing on decades as a leader in disaster relief for small businesses, Stroock is at the head of a new and wide-ranging legal industry effort to help this critical but vulnerable sector weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stroock created and is leading the Small Business Legal Relief Alliance, which provides pro bono legal counsel to small businesses and nonprofits. The Alliance consists of 26 top law firms and eight leading legal services organizations.

The SBLRA provides holistic telephonic consultations on issues as varied as commercial leases and rent, taxes, employment, contracts and intellectual property rights. The Alliance also provides critical guidance on the federal loan programs. Already, almost 200 small businesses have received prompt, practical help designed to keep them afloat. This outreach is critical both for the small businesses and for the City, which relies so heavily on the goods and services they provide.

 “Community economic development is critical in good times,” says Kevin Curnin, the head of Stroock’s Public Service Project, “but in a disaster, it becomes make or break. Immediately behind a truly small business is a family, a mortgage or apartment rent, food for the kids, health insurance, and a few trusted employees with their own families.”   

Decades of Disaster Relief

Stroock’s SBLRA leadership builds upon the firm’s extensive pedigree of providing legal pro bono services when national disaster strikes.

The Public Service Project has put itself on the front lines of legal relief for thousands of struggling Americans, with a special focus on assisting small businesses in the wake of September 11, Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

After September 11, for example, Stroock conceived, staffed and helped launch the citywide Small Business Legal Relief initiative, which served approximately 800 small businesses struggling to survive while facing an oppressive array of legal needs.

The firm also helped organize and staff a unique mediation program in the Housing Part of NYC Civil Court to help keep small businesses from being evicted while also responding to the needs of landlords. Kevin also founded and advised From the Ground Up, a self-help and advocacy group that represented thousands of small businesses in Lower Manhattan and successfully advocated for better government relief programs.

Drawing on this experience in Lower Manhattan, Stroock came to the aid of thousands of small-business owners in New Orleans after the shocking losses caused by Hurricane Katrina. The firm co-created and counseled the grassroots advocacy group Second Wind, with over 1,000 small-business members. Among other victories, Second Wind successfully lobbied for and helped organize a $100 million small-business grant program.

After Superstorm Sandy devastated coastal homes and businesses in and around New York City, the PSP again drew on its knowledge of small-business legal needs to help coordinate law firms and legal services providers, to lead a citywide training, to open and staff walk-in clinics, and to provide direct representation to struggling entrepreneurs by deploying where needed most, in flood zones like Red Hook and the Far Rockaways.

This work is in turn informed by 20 years as a pioneer in community economic development legal services, supported by dozens of Stroock lawyers providing thousands of hours of pro bono aid through clinics, workshops, counsel to non-profit services providers, and hundreds of direct representations.

A Dynamic Model

Out of this trove of experience, the SBLRA was founded on two pillars: firm-to-firm cooperation and firm-to-legal services pipelines. The SBLRA melds these two seamlessly.

The key features are an accelerated “Crisis Intake” from the legal services organizations, and from the firms, their own ready-to-roll Rapid Response Teams.  

“As often as we’ve faced this tsunami,” Kevin reports, “this model is the most highly coordinated. The legal services groups have been grateful, as have the firms. We’re all about the same thing:  providing help where it’s most needed.”

Kevin sees this effort lasting for months.

“We’re built to last because this crisis won’t soon pass. It’s an honor to work with the Alliance and especially the members of Stroock’s own Rapid Response Team.”