Lending a Hand to Small Business Owners

As a BU Regulation community support fellow at Bet Tzedek in Los Angeles, Bria Stephens (’20) helps business people from underrepresented communities, like with their pandemic-certain concerns.

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As a BU Regulation public assistance fellow at Guess Tzedek in Los Angeles, Bria Stephens (’20) helps entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities, which includes with their pandemic-unique worries.

1 of the first inquiries Bria Stephens (’20) asks likely clientele as the lawyer in charge of Guess Tzedek’s smaller company advancement task is: What is going on?

Headshot of Bria Stephens ('20)
Bria Stephens (’20)

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, with so lots of enterprises shut down as part of efforts to avoid the spread of the virus, the responses have been emotional.

“On most of my cellphone calls, a person is in tears,” Stephens suggests.

Guess Tzedek, a nonprofit company of cost-free legal companies in Los Angeles, commenced its smaller small business enhancement project in 2017 in recognition of the job entrepreneurship can engage in in encouraging raise men and women out of poverty. Right before the pandemic, the program aided about 100 customers for every yr. In 2020, that amount additional than doubled, with 250 persons getting aid. Most of these requests were being related to the impacts of the pandemic, together with how to obtain relief funds, and, more not long ago, how to stave off commercial eviction.

Stephens joined Bet Tzedek in Oct as the receiver of the Boston College Faculty of Regulation Yanan & Dan Schwartz Fellowship, a single of a number of fellowships that let students to pursue yearlong general public interest positions. As the only comprehensive-time staff members member on Bet Tzedek’s modest business enterprise improvement staff, her part involves conducting consumption interviews, matching clients with professional bono attorneys who can aid them, overseeing volunteers, and aiding appear up with content for the program’s webinars, which offer absolutely free general small business legislation lessons and, in the past calendar year, pandemic-precise advice (Guess Tzedek’s compact small business progress challenge is a partner in Los Angeles’ LA Signifies initiative, which was established to give lawful help in the course of the pandemic).

For Stephens, the position was a great in shape. The Mississippi native’s desire in organization regulation was inspired in component by her father, a writer who started out his very own confined liability company (LLC), and her grandmother, who at the time pursued a patent for a motor vehicle seat with a robotic arm for a baby’s bottle. Stephens researched English literature at the University of Mississippi. Her appreciate of writing—“In one more lifetime, I would be a writer,” she says—and the plan of individuals staying equipped to management their inventive products served inspire her route to the law.

“It’s important to be capable to safeguard what you develop,” she claims.

At BU Law, Stephens fell a lot more precisely in adore with mental property in a class with Professor Wendy Gordon, who also supervised Stephens’ notice on the different repercussions of copyright violations and plagiarism. Stephens concluded a focus in IP and data regulation and served as govt editor of the Journal of Science and Technology Law. In her 3rd year, she participated in the BU/MIT Startup Law Clinic, encouraging pupil entrepreneurs form LLCs, file trademark apps, protect their copyrights with just take-down notices, and problem inventory.

That knowledge established her up nicely for the compact business enterprise growth position at Guess Tzedek.

“When I noticed [the job posting], I believed, ‘This is precisely what I do,’” she recollects.

Becoming capable to explain to an individual we’re heading to go ahead, when I in fact get them an attorney—you can hear the relief in their voices. Even if their challenge doesn’t get fixed, they’re likely to get enable.

Bria Stephens (’20), BU Regulation public service fellow at Bet Tzedek

Now, as a substitute of pupils, she functions with compact enterprise proprietors from under-represented communities. Her customers run corporations ranging from hair and nail salons to vehicle restore stores, party-preparing corporations, and places to eat. Despite the fact that the job does not generally symbolize folks right (it refers clients to attorneys who specialize in a pertinent location), Stephens helps shepherd them via the legal assistance process. She states her time at BU Regulation assisted put together her for the function.

“The whole regulation school knowledge has been helpful—with organizational and time management expertise, producing memos, and carrying out authorized investigate,” she states.

But her scientific get the job done has been specially valuable.

“When I talk to customers and I hear one thing, I know: That’s an problem,” she says. “The clinic definitely helped with concern recognizing.” 

A person of Stephens early attempts at Guess Tzedek was to compile a “massive memo” of all the kinds of economic relief accessible to persons whose firms ended up influenced by COVID-19, which includes federal, point out, and local grant-making programs. A lot more not long ago, she arrived up with a a few-component webinar sequence on intellectual assets law, with subjects on the pros and down sides of patent and trade key safety, an overview of how to use the US Patent and Trademark Office’s web site, and a guide for navigating the US Copyright Office internet site.

“There’s a gap in the enterprise neighborhood,” she claims. “People who appear from less than-represented communities may possibly not know what it normally takes to begin a small business. The intent of my series is to give men and women equipment to safeguard the issues they make.”

The perform is hard but worthwhile.

“Being equipped to explain to another person we’re likely to move ahead, when I truly get them an attorney—you can listen to the aid in their voices,” she claims. “Even if their difficulty doesn’t get settled, they’re going to get support.”

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