Washington Lawyer - September 2016 - 26

FEATURE PRO BONO CONNECTION One key to small business growth: a helping of Pro Bono Center expertise By Sarah Kellogg Mari Rodela of DC Brau had a problem. The D.C. craft brewery was growing so quickly in 2012 that it needed to hire full-time staff and not rely solely on the sweat equity of its founders to expand the business. Yet she was struggling to figure out D.C. employment laws as the brewery was ramping up its beer production. Rodela invested sweat equity, too, back in the early days of DC Brau, which was founded by her husband Jeff Hancock and Brandon Skall in 2011. She needed help but she wasn't sure where to turn to, and everyone agreed that they couldn't afford to pay an attorney for the legal advice needed to begin the hiring process. And then she heard about the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's services offered through volunteer lawyers. "We are a small business, and it was pretty daunting to think about how we could grow the business in terms of employees," says Rodela, now the chief community and culture officer at DC Brau, which was the District's first craft brewery in 50 years. "I was doing a lot of research on employment law, and I connected with my HR person from a previous job. Then I attended one of the Center's clinic sessions, and it helped make sense of it for me." At the Small Business Brief Advice Legal Clinic, the Pro Bono Center's monthly walk-in clinic, not only were 26 WASHINGTON LAWYER * SEPTEMBER 2016 * Rodela's questions answered by a pro bono lawyer, but she also was encouraged to attend the Center's four-part Employment Law Series, offered periodically through its Small Business Legal Assistance Program. The Employment Law Series complements the Pro Bono Center's eight-part, once-a-year training series for startups. The Center's portfolio of services struck a chord with Rodela. "For me, the clinic was the beginning," says Rodela. "It was nice to be able to have the space to ask some questions. It's so helpful to get clarification. None of the rules or the way things are done in the HR world is very clear. Everything is a realm of grey, and the Pro Bono Center helped clarify it all." The grey appears to have lifted for DC Brau. What began as a two-person, part-time operation producing 1,600 barrels of beer has grown into a thriving company. DC Brau has 45 staff members today, and produced approximately 15,500 barrels of beer across many styles in 2015. Through its monthly legal clinics, Webinars, and multi-class seminars, the Pro Bono Center is able to provide targeted legal assistance and information about how to set up, staff, and sustain a small business or nonprofit. It's all part of its mission to aid D.C. small businesses, including the burgeoning food service industry that ranges from restaurants and breweries to food trucks and craft food makers. "We consider the Pro Bono Center to be both a service to the community and to these businesses individually," says Darryl Maxwell, managing attorney for the Small Business Legal Assistance Program. "They are hiring people and adding jobs and broadening the tax base in the city. Our goal is to support the employers who provide jobs at the lower ends of the market." Legal counsel is one of those most critical but least affordable professional services that startup restaurants and craft food makers need, Maxwell notes. With tight margins, most startups are not able to pay an attorney for advice, even if it could make the difference between complying with government regulations and paying a hefty fine. "Oftentimes, the clients that come to us could not seek advice if they had to pay," says Maxwell, adding that many of the small businesses that come to the Center for assistance are serving low-income neighborhoods. "That puts them at peril when negotiating on a contract. It makes more sense for them to have free advice that they can use." http://www.dcbar.org/

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