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The Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project Assists Small Business Owners Struggling After SuperStorm Sandy

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

  • Organization: City Bar Justice Center

Some of SuperStorm Sandy’s worst victims have been New York City’s small business owners, many of whom were already struggling to get by when the storm hit. Some business owners have even been faced with losing both their business and their home simultaneously. The Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) is dedicated to creating a thriving small business community in New York City, by providing pro bono legal assistance for entrepreneurs as they start up and grow their businesses. When SuperStorm Sandy hit, NELP was determined to be at the front line of the legal response to assist small business owners, quickly partnering with community-based organizations in the hardest hit communities to create disaster-related legal clinics for the businesses in these areas. To staff these clinics, NELP held a training on Small Business Disaster Assistance for over one hundred attorneys interested in donating their time to assist injured businesses.

In the four months since SuperStorm Sandy, NELP has organized a total of thirteen Sandy-related Small Business Legal Clinics throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, assisting a total of eighty-seven clients with Sandy-related legal issues. Volunteer attorneys travel to these clinics and meet one-on-one with clients to offer assistance regarding issues such as: applications to the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), forms of available financial aid, claims to insurance companies, commercial landlord-tenant problems, and questions regarding business contracts. In addition to organizing and staffing legal clinics, NELP has been assisting small business owners in need of ongoing pro bono representation from an attorney. NELP has found pro bono representation for several clients facing issues such as commercial insurance denials, landlord-tenant disputes, and applications for financial assistance for their businesses.

NELP held a total of five legal clinics in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, an up-and-coming neighborhood that consists of large industrial spaces as well as many smaller, new retail businesses. Situated on and near the waterfront, the entire neighborhood was heavily flooded and devastated during Sandy. Through a partnership with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the New York City Department of Small Business Services, NELP was able to organize a weekly clinic at the local IKEA, advertising broadly to the local business community and establishing a regular presence in the area.

NELP held a weekly clinic in Far Rockaway, setting up at a restaurant which opened its doors to the relief effort and partnering with local organizations including Restore Rockaway, 596 Acres, and the Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corporation. Businesses in the Rockaways have been particularly hard hit. Many business owners’ homes were damaged in the storm, and even for those who businesses are back up and running, the number of customers has declined dramatically as locals struggle to get back on their feet. NELP will be returning to the Rockaway area this March for a legal clinic, through which it hopes to get a better sense of how business owners’ issues have evolved and which legal problems persist.

At the end of January, partnering again with the NYC Department of Small Business Services and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, NELP organized a clinic in Sheepshead Bay, an area of Brooklyn that can be somewhat difficult to access for relief agencies. Nearly two dozen of NELP’s volunteer attorneys from Barclays PLC and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP were joined by certified public accountants from the New York State Society of CPAs in offering free legal and accounting assistance to a total of twenty-eight local individuals and small business owners tackling Sandy-related issues.

As the problems created by SuperStorm Sandy will persist for some time, NELP is committed to providing long-term assistance for New York City’s small businesses. NELP continues to partner with local community organizations and organize new legal clinics and events for small business owners. Two legal clinics in partnership with Community Board 1, Goldman Sachs, Proskauer Rose LLP and Senator Daniel Squadron have been confirmed for the end of February and beginning of March. These clinics serve businesses in the South Street Seaport area of lower Manhattan, which was part of Hurricane Evacuation Zone A during the storm and experienced heavy flooding. As there are two consecutive dates for the clinic, business owners will have the opportunity to return for a second session should additional legal assistance be required.

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