Washington Lawyer - September 2016 - 27

Managing Attorney Darryl Maxwell and DC Brau's Mari Rodela Maxwell says the Pro Bono Center is careful not to make any promises to its small business clients. There is no expectation of an ongoing attorney-client relationship. Most questions are answered or issues resolved in a consultation that can last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, and there are no restrictions on how often entrepreneurs can come to the clinic. That's what appealed to Yadira Stamp, chef and owner of Esencias Panameñas Restaurant & Catering, a Georgia Avenue eatery that specializes in Panamanian cuisine. Stamp liked the idea that she could check back with Maxwell and the Pro Bono Center at different points, asking for advice as problems arose in her business. "They were very helpful as a starting point," Stamp says. "I went for an open house where you are assigned someone and you can discuss what you want to discuss. The attorney I got was very helpful... I wanted to get a sense of my rights as a tenant because I was dealing with my landlord on my lease for the restaurant." A former electrical engineer, Stamp was born in Panama but has lived in Washington, D.C., for more than 35 years. She left engineering to pursue her passion for cooking, but her road to opening a restaurant and catering business has been a rocky one, with a number of legal Photos: Patrice Gilbert Photography problems surrounding her lease. With the Pro Bono Center's help, she opened her restaurant in July 2015. "The Pro Bono Center went above and beyond my expectations," Stamp says. "I guess I expected that, because they were doing this free of charge, they would just be rushing you off to get to the next person. Instead of that, it was as though there were no people behind you. The attorney sat with me, and she made me feel like I was the only client she had at that moment. She wanted to make sure I had all the information that I needed to have." After attending the employment law seminar, Stamp says she was able to almost immediately put that training to good use. "I even used some of the bullet points in the presentation," she says, adding them to her employee handbook. "Those were very good sessions." While she understands the limits to what the Center can do, she wishes there were more resources available for restaurants like hers that are barely breaking even, especially around the intricacies of landlord-tenant law and leases, as well as employment law and how to treat complex issues like overtime and salaried employees. "What does it really mean to go on salary?" Stamp says. "That's an important issue to cover in-depth." At the core of the Small Business Legal Assistance Program's success is the army of volunteer lawyers whose guidance enriches and elevates the work of small businesses and nonprofits, Maxwell says. The volunteers not only bring their legal knowledge to task, but they also make a personal commitment to the Center's mission and the people it serves. He says that staffing the monthly clinics is rarely difficult because Bar members are enthusiastic about volunteering, so much so that the clinics have waiting lists for interested attorneys. To strengthen the work of its volunteers, the Pro Bono Center also holds a free training twice a year for interested attorneys. It is not a requirement for volunteers to attend the training, as most of them are only asked to offer advice within their practice areas, but it's encouraged for new attorney volunteers. For Al Goldberg, founder of the membership-based culinary incubator Mess Hall, the Pro Bono Center's advantage is that it allows small businesses to come in early and return intermittently to deal with new issues and problems - the bane of small businesses everywhere. Mess Hall, a temporary home for fledgling food startups, opened in October 2014. * WASHINGTON LAWYER * SEPTEMBER 2016 27 http://www.dcbar.org/

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