One by one, they trickled into the law firm office – an artisan baker, an organic clothing distributor, a personal financial planner, and a boutique cosmetics vendor. Others soon followed, and they eventually numbered 14 entrepreneurs gathered to tap into a valued resource: free legal advice. They were joined by more than 30 attorneys from Comcast NBCUniversal and Philadelphia law firm Morgan Lewis, who teamed up to host individualized consultations to advise the local small business owners on topics including business formation and incorporation, risk management, intellectual property, and more.
The volunteer program is part of a growing commitment to pro bono service at Comcast NBCUniversal. Our pro bono program became formalized in 2016 under the leadership of Comcast’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel Art Block, who volunteered during the session to advise Peter Merzbacher, the founder and owner of Philly Bread. Last year, our attorneys provided more than 1,400 pro bono service hours to offer their legal expertise.
This year the team built upon this momentum, planning ongoing activities that culminated in a weeklong series of projects in partnership with nine nonprofits in six different cities in the United States and England. About 100 attorneys and other employees from our legal teams volunteered to lend their talents and skills at small business clinics in Philadelphia and Brooklyn and other opportunities including advising foster parents who were finalizing adoptions of their foster children in Los Angeles, and hosting a shadowing day for 20 students from a London school to teach them about opportunities in legal careers.
"It not only a responsibility for us as lawyers to provide pro bono service; it’s an opportunity to use our passion to make our communities stronger," said Derek Squire, Comcast Vice President and Senior Deputy General Counsel, who leads the employee planning committee.
At the Philadelphia small business clinic, Eshaw Samuels, a self-proclaimed "one woman show" and founder of Escreenings LLC, a year-old business that provides promotional items and giveaways for events, came in search of advice on an operating agreement and vendor contracts. She was paired up with Shelita Stewart, Deputy General Counsel in Comcast’s Corporate Legal department and Michael Ossip, Partner at Morgan Lewis.
"We work for a company that’s always growing," Shelita said, "so it’s fitting that we’re getting engaged in this way to help entrepreneurs, like Eshaw, succeed." For Shelita, the experience was also personal. "I believe it’s important for clients to see and interact with lawyers who reflect the diverse communities that we serve."
The clinic was planned by attorneys at both companies in partnership with Philadelphia VIP and Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, two local nonprofits focused on providing hard-to-access resources to underserved individuals and communities in the greater Philadelphia region. Businesses with fewer than 100 employees represent 97 percent of all businesses in the City.
"Small businesses are the engine of economic growth and job creation in Philadelphia," said Sophie Bryan, Executive Director of Philadelphia VIP. "Having key documentation and appropriate processes in place can mean the difference between these businesses succeeding or hitting roadblocks that hinder growth."