SBS And VOLS Partner To Extend Free Legal Services With BE NYC

December 5, 2023

 New York City Small Business Services (SBS) Commissioner Kevin D. Kim today announced a new partnership between SBS’s Black Entrepreneurs NYC (BE NYC) initiative and Volunteers of Legal Services (VOLS) that expands free legal services available to NYC’s entrepreneurs.

The new partnership will make legal services more accessible to Black entrepreneurs and underserved communities. By leveraging VOLS’s dedicated network of staff and pro bono volunteer attorneys, the partnership will connect New York City business owners to one-on-one free transactional legal education, advice, and representation on business formation, contracts, taxes, intellectual property, human resources, and other emergent issues. In addition, starting in 2024, VOLS will organize clinics and educational workshops on a range of legal challenges faced by entrepreneurs.  

The partnership adds to a broad suite of free legal services available to local business owners through SBS, including:

One-hour free legal consultation on a range of pre-litigation topics at any of the seven NYC Business Solutions Centers (BSCs) located throughout the five boroughs;

• Help from a pro bono attorney with (1) reviewing and signing a new lease; (2) amending, renewing, or terminating an existing lease; and (3) representation on other commercial lease-related issues through the Commercial Lease Assistance (CLA) program;


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• Free workshops and legal clinics designed to help NYC-certified Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) better understand business contracts, agreements, and related legal situations to successfully compete for City contracts; and,

• Free legal consultations via the Women Entrepreneurs NYC (WE NYC) program on a range of topics for women starting, operating, or growing a business.

Together, these programs have served over 5,600 entrepreneurs with free legal help over the last two years.

“This new partnership between SBS’s BE NYC initiative and VOLS positions New York City as a leader in providing small business owners in underserved communities with the support needed to help their businesses soar to new heights,” said First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright. “Small business owners, who serve as the backbone of our neighborhoods, have encountered too many barriers to high-quality services necessary to grow. I thank Commissioner Kim, BE NYC Executive Director Ebie, and VOLS Executive Director Midha for cutting red-tape and providing resources towards our vital small business community.”

“I am so excited to see this partnership between SBS’s BE NYC initiative and VOLS take form,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development, and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer. “Access to quality legal services and consultation is one of the biggest barriers to success for entrepreneurs in New York City and Black entrepreneurs in particular. This new venture marks an important turning point in our administration’s efforts in dismantling the disparities within our small business ecosystem. I want to thank VOLS Executive Director Midha, BE NYC Executive Director Ebie, and Commissioner Kim for making this announcement possible.”

“As an attorney and former small business owner, I know firsthand how hard it is to find quality, reliable, and affordable legal services in New York City,” said SBS Commissioner Kevin D. Kim. “At SBS we have made tremendous progress in bridging that gap through our NYC Business Solutions Centers, as well as our Commercial Lease Assistance and M/WBE programs. This new partnership between our BE NYC initiative and VOLS will allow us to take those efforts to the next level and reach even more New Yorkers with the legal services they need. I’m grateful to have the support of the wonderful people at VOLS as we work together in making New York into the City of Yes.”

“Sound legal advice from inception is important for the viability of a business venture, however, such representation is often out of reach for our City’s underserved business owners and entrepreneurs,” said Executive Director & Chief Development Officer of BE NYC Kenneth Ebie. “Through our partnership with VOLS, our program will provide businesses with access to top-notch legal services from VOLS staff and the best and brightest private sector pro bono lawyers in New York City, putting them on the path to long-term economic prosperity and sustained community impact. This collaboration represents what is possible when the government, non-profit, and private sectors come together with intentionality to address real-world problems with practical solutions.”

“For nearly 40 years, VOLS has helped thousands of underserved New Yorkers access justice for their civil legal challenges,” said VOLS Executive Director Abja Midha. “We are honored to partner with SBS and BE NYC to help Black entrepreneurs advance their dreams. Access to a free high-quality attorney can make all the difference for small business owners navigating the complexities of the legal system.”

Interested business owners are encouraged to join upcoming BE NYC events and seek assistance via SBS’s Small Business Hotline (888-SBS-4NYC). More information about upcoming workshops and clinics can be found at nyc.gov/legalassistance.

“Supporting Black entrepreneurs and their small businesses with this range of technical assistance is a critical part of New York City investing in Black equity and wealth building,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “Whether your business is in its infancy or it’s been a community institution for generations, I encourage Black entrepreneurs to take advantage of everything that SBS is offering to help you navigate the legal landscape of business ownership.”

“This collaboration between Small Business Services and Volunteers of Legal Services marks a pivotal step in addressing disparities within the small business landscape,” said New York City Councilmember and Chair of the Committee on Small Business Julie Menin. “Securing free legal services is imperative for small business owners and assists in empowering underserved communities. Thank you, Commissioner Kim, for prioritizing outreach and services to New Yorkers of diverse backgrounds which fosters a more inclusive and thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

“For many New Yorkers, owning a small business is an effective path to financial stability and independence,” said Andrea Tan, Director, VOLS Microenterprise Project. “VOLS Microenterprise Project works with the private bar to provide free transactional legal services for small business owners who are otherwise unable to pay the high cost of hiring a private lawyer. We help them avoid crisis and enable the best chance of success. VOLS is proud to partner with SBS and BE NYC to help New Yorkers thrive.”

“The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce wishes to commend NYC SBS…”

“The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce wishes to commend NYC SBS Commissioner Kevin D. Kim and Executive Director of the SBS Black Entrepreneurs NYC Initiative, Kenneth Ebie, for their collective vision & leadership in initiating another important program for deserving New York City small businesses and entrepreneurs,” said Lloyd Williams, President & CEO, Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. “Recognizing that start-up Black entrepreneurs oftentimes lack the financial resources and technical support needed to maintain a successful business for a prolonged period of time, the new collaboration established by SBS for Black businesses and entrepreneurs, when combined in partnership with VOLS, will better allow for successful business outcomes over the long term. Our Chamber is proud to partner with the NYC Department of Small Business Services on this important initiative.”

“Legal fees are a major hurdle for aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly those from low-income backgrounds,” said Blondel Pinnock, President and CEO, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. “The BE NYC Legal Services Program will be a game changer, providing free critical services that will help entrepreneurs turn their visions into reality. Restoration is a proud partner of the BE NYC initiative, and we look forward to continuing to support Black entrepreneurs and their powerful contributions to our city’s economy.”

“Cleary Gottlieb congratulates BE NYC and VOLS on the launch of the BE NYC Legal Services Program, which recognizes and responds to the critical need for practical legal services for small businesses across New York City,” said Katherine Hughes, Director of U.S. Pro Bono, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, LLP. “I look forward to working alongside my Cleary colleagues to support this partnership and continuing our longstanding tradition of providing pro bono legal services to New York City’s inspiring, creative, and ambitious entrepreneurs.”

“Far too often small businesses and minority businesses suffer severe consequences due to the lack of ready access to effective legal representation when it’s most needed,” said Paul T. Williams, Jr., former CEO & President, Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. “The partnership between SBS Black Entrepreneurs BE NYC and VOLS will promote sound business practices and help small businesses stay in business and succeed.”

“The Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic at Columbia Law School has worked closely with VOLS and BE NYC to provide essential legal counsel to business owners committed to strengthening their communities, oftentimes with limited resources,” said Lynnise E. Pantin, Professor of Transactional Law, Pritzker Pucker Family Clinical, and Founding Director for the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic, Columbia Law School. “We look forward to collaborating with this wonderful partnership in order to support economic empowerment and make a meaningful contribution to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in New York City.”

Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS)

Since 1984, Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) has harnessed the power of the private bar and community-based organizations to provide free civil legal services to thousands of underserved New Yorkers with limited access to resources. Visit www.volsprobono.org to learn more about VOLS’ programs and services.

BE NYC

BE NYC, launched by the NYC Department of Small Business Services in 2019, is a first-of-its-kind model in a major American city to help address the racial wealth gap by empowering Black entrepreneurs. Through strategic public-private partnerships and innovative programs, BE NYC provides pathways to achieve systemic change by providing equitable access to financing, strengthening professional networks and advice, scaling Black businesses for long-term success, and preparing Black entrepreneurs for opportunities in high-growth industries. For more information, visit nyc.gov/benyc.

The NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS)

SBS helps unlock economic potential and create economic security for all New Yorkers by connecting New Yorkers to good jobs, creating stronger businesses, and building vibrant neighborhoods across the five boroughs. For more information on all SBS services, go to nyc.gov/sbs, call 311.

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