Small businesses in SouthCoast Massachusetts got a helping hand from UMass Law students recently as they navigated their way through complex federal legislation enacted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. For nine UMass Law students, the COVID-19 Clinic provided an unprecedented experience as they assisted small businesses adversely affected by the pandemic with legal issues including the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Under the supervision of Assistant Professor Dustin Marlan, upper-level law students conducted pro bono legal research, interviewed and counseled clients, and drafted legal work in various areas of business law, particularly understanding and acting on options available under the federal government’s COVID-19 stimulus package. All free consultations were provided to clients remotely by videoconference or phone.
The bipartisan CARES Act was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed into law on March 27. The legislation is designed to provide direct financial assistance to eligible businesses and families during the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 Clinic is designed to provide opportunities for current upper-level UMass Law students or recent graduates to gain legal experience assisting small businesses in Massachusetts who are struggling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Marlan. “Helping small businesses navigate a radically altered financial landscape without cost to them is a matter of social and economic justice.”
The most common issues students assisted with involved navigating the CARES Act and programs created by the U.S. Small Business Administration such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.
Students also assisted with other business law matters
The students also assisted with other business law matters including negotiating leases, contract review, intellectual property filings, employment law issues, and government regulations.
Working in small groups, the students represented a travel agency in navigating the Paycheck Protection Program and issues of employment law, represented a footwear business in trademark and social media promotion, and assisted minority entrepreneurs - Economic Empowerment Applicants - in obtaining a cannabis industry license under the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission’s Social Equity Program.
One client remarked, “I really appreciate this service. As you know, it’s tough for small start-ups especially now and this really helps.”
Upper level UMass Law students and a graduate participated in the project, including 3L’s Brandon Hunt, Stephen Kaye, Ashley Rix, and Mercedes Martinez; and 2L’s Lillian Goldman, Kevin King, Sadia Mandli, Shanicquah Reynolds; and Brittany Westcott, JD ’20.
Clinic experience described as “lawyering in 2020”
“My experience in the COVID-19 Clinic can be described as lawyering in 2020,” said Kaye, JD '21, who worked with an Economic Empowerment Applicant. “Everything was done remotely, from client meetings to case management to attendance at public hearings.”
His Legal Skills I-III courses were helpful in writing memos and consulting with clients. Courses like Business Organizations and Transactional Drafting proved especially beneficial in working with business clients in the clinic. Working in the COVID-19 Clinic reinforced Kaye’s interest in pursuing transactional law.
“We were able to help clients by handling their legal matters so they could worry about what’s most important to them and focus their energies on the issues that they feel most comfortable with,” Kaye said.