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American Bar Association

Business and Community Economic Development Pro Bono

Many local, community-based organizations have engaged in developing strategies and activities that involve low-income persons in the growth and development of their local community. Examples include a wide-range of initiatives and services to create affordable housing, jobs, child care, small businesses, etc. Many of these community-based organizations need the services of pro bono lawyers for assistance with legal matters pertaining to the business nature of their operations. Newly created organizations need assistance in a variety of areas, such as project assessment and start-up assistance. Established organizations may need assistance in evaluating, negotiating and structuring new projects, handling real estate matters and addressing labor and employment issues.

Many lawyers who are accustomed to serving the needs of "corporate" clients have the requisite legal skills and experience that so many community-based and nonprofit organizations desperately need. This includes attorneys who work for corporations and firms. To help these lawyers access the network of community-based and non-profit organizations, many community economic development or business law pro bono programs now exist. These programs act as an intermediary between the private attorneys and the community-based organizations and provide technical and litigation support.

Examples Of Legal Services Provided By Business Attorneys

Create And Develop A New Business Law Pro Bono Project

Program Descriptions And Model Forms

Assistance For Existing Programs

Links To Business Law Pro Bono Programs

Links To Law School Business Clinics

Links To Related Organizations

Links To Publications

  Examples Of Legal Services Provided By Business Attorneys

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Pro bono attorneys provide nonprofit institutions, microenterprises and community-based organizations a wide range of business/transactional skills including:

  • Drafting by-laws and articles of incorporation
  • Obtaining tax-exempt status
  • Negotiating lease agreements
  • Contract matters (employment, construction, etc.)
  • Assisting with personnel and labor relations issues
  • Providing tax advice
  • Assisting a tenant organization in the development of affordable housing through handling complex zoning, tax, real estate and financing issues, etc.
  • Advising on corporate governance matters
  • Establishing of subsidiary corporations
  • Reviewing loan documents
  • Preparing limited partnership agreements
  • Providing legal advice and representation to low-income entrepreneurs who are starting businesses
  • Undertaking legal research and writing projects
  • Engaging in public policy to address systemic issues by lobbying, drafting and proposing new legislation or amending existing laws.

How To Create And Develop
A New Business Law Pro Bono Project

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The ABA Section of Business Law Pro Bono Committee sponsors "A Business Commitment," or "ABC" Project. ABC in the development of local programs that (1) provide business lawyers with opportunities to make pro bono contributions using their special skills; and (2) provide legal expertise to community-based groups that cannot afford a lawyer. ABC created The ABC Manual: Starting and Operating a Business Law Pro Bono Project to assist local groups of business lawyers develop business projects through a compendium of models, best practices and success stories. ABC has now made it easier to locate pro bono business entities by providing the ABC Manual Directory Online.

Program Descriptions And Model Forms

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The ABA Center for Pro Bono maintains a Clearinghouse containing a wide variety of documents about a broad range of pro bono-related topics, including business law pro bono and business law pro bono program management.

Documents are organized by subject matter in a two-tier system.

  • The first tier is a set of over 40 subject categories concerning pro bono delivery. These subject categories primarily focus on lawyer/volunteer communities (i.e. large law firms, corporate legal department, business and community economic development, etc.); or pro bono program management activities (i.e. funding, recruiting, retention, operations, etc.). Thus, documents relevant to your program likely can be found in several categories - typically categories that describe the types of lawyers or clients you serve, and the types of activities you undertake.

For example, if you are searching for examples of programs for business lawyers, you would likely find materials under the category of "Business and Community Economic Development." If are seeking model forms, such as intake or retainer agreements, you will find these materials under "Pro Bono Program Operations."

  • The second tier is a set of relevant subcategories within each major subject area. For example, under "Pro Bono Program Operations" are categories like: intake forms, eligibility procedures, etc.

The Clearinghouse INDEX provides a complete listing of all major categories and subcategories. Or access the Clearinghouse itself.

Also, the ABA Section of Business Law Pro Bono Committee ABC Project sponsors an ABC Toolbox of model forms.

Assistance For Existing Programs

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  • The ABA Center for Pro Bono provides a variety of information and resources about starting and administering a pro bono program.
  • Power of Attorney is a national organization working to create a more diverse and effective environment through which business lawyers are able to provide pro bono legal services to nonprofits and other community groups throughout the United States.
  • A Business Commitment (ABC) Pro Bono is a listserve for persons involved in the provision of pro bono legal services to community-based and non-profit organizations. This is a closed list; people who wish to join must submit their request for approval at http://mail.abanet.org/archives/pb-ABC_probono.html.
  • CorporateProBono.org, a joint effort of the Pro Bono Institute and Association of Corporate Counsel is a nationwide initiative designed to increase the amount of pro bono work performed by in-house counsel and to assist legal services, pro bono and public interest programs in publicizing and placing pro bono matters with in-house lawyers. The site features a library of resources about corporate pro bono, the CPBO Corporate Legal Pro Bono Pledge and a practitioner network linking volunteers with experienced mentors.

Links To Business Law Pro Bono Programs

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The Bar Association of San Francisco VLSP - Community Organizations Representation Project

Community Economic Development Law Project (Chicago, IL)

Community Legal Resources (Detroit, MI)

Community Organizations Legal Assistance Project, Inc. (Indianapolis, IN)

The Community Tax Law Project (Richmond, Virginia)

DC Bar Pro Bono Project CED Pro Bono Project

Lawyers Alliance for New York

Lawyers Clearinghouse on Affordable Housing and Homelessness (Boston, MA)

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area Legal Services for Entrepreneurs

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Local Initiatives Support Corporation

Ontario Volunteer Lawyers Service

Philadelphia VIP CED Pro Bono Initiative

Pro Bono Partnership (NY, NJ, CT)

Public Counsel Community Development Project (Los Angeles, CA)

State Bar of Georgia ABC Project

Texas C-Bar

Links To Law School Business Clinics

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University of Chicago Law School Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship

University of the District of Columbia Small Business Clinic

George Washington University Community Legal Clinics, Small Business Clinic

University of Michigan Law School Legal Assistance for Urban Communities Clinic

Northwestern University School of Law Small Business Opportunity Clinic

University of Pennsylvania Small Business Clinic

Syracuse University Law School Center for Law and Business Enterprise

University of Tennessee College of Law Center for Entrepreneurial Law

William Mitchell College of Law Business Law Clinic

Links To Related Organizations

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ABA Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law

ABA Section of Business Law- A Business Commitment

ABA Section of Business Law, Nonprofit Corporations Committee

Alliance for Nonprofit Management

Appleseed Foundation

Business LINC


Enterprise Foundation

HUD User- Policy and Research Information Service

Mountain Association for Community Economic Development

National Congress for Community Economic Development

National Economic Development and Law Center

The Nonprofit Resource Center

Power of Attorney


Links To Publications

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The American Bar Association Legal Guide for Small Business

The ABC Manual: Starting and Operating a Business Law Pro Bono Project (Adobe download 581 Kb)

The ABC Toolbox

Business Law Today (ABA Section of Business Law)

September/October 2002 issue of Business Law Today
This issue has several articles on a pro bono theme: When help is hard to find explains why non-profits must have access to legal expertise, Building neighborhoods considers how pro bono effects community building, the article From database to dedication discusses the method used by Richmond, Virginia, to link business lawyers with those needing help and Getting public service on the agenda profiles Mary Ann O'Connor's work in Chicago.

Fulfilling the Promise of Business Law Pro Bono

Guidebook for Directors of Nonprofit Corporations

A Legal Guide to Microenterprise Development: Battling Poverty Through Self-Employment

Nonprofit Governance: The Executive's Guide

The Tax Exempt Tool Kit

Updated: 9/22/2009

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