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LEAPs and bounds

They're lawyers, here to help

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Are you a small business owner in need of legal assistance? Then you're in luck because the N.C. Lawyers for Entrepreneurs Assistance Program is here for you.

Low-wealth business owners -- people who don't make a lot of money and have less than $8,000 in savings -- are invited to a legal clinic at the Duke Energy building on March 25.

N.C. LEAP offers pro bono services to small business that wouldn't be able to afford legal services otherwise, says Charlotte attorney Erin Janssen. Janssen is one of 47 attorneys volunteering to offer services, such as deciding what kind of entity the business should be and negotiating the red tape of registering with the state.

"Some of these businesses make too much for legal aid, but they don't make enough to money to hire an attorney," says Janssen. "It will be the first time this is offered in Mecklenburg County. This is the roll out of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. There are a lot of benefits to providing this service."

The program also serves clients in Anson, Cabarrus, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Montgomery, Moore, Richmond, Rowan, Stanly and Union counties.

N.C. LEAP, a service offered by the N.C. Bar Association is based in Raleigh. It has made an impact across the eastern part of the state, Janssen says.

Small businesses -- firms with fewer than 500 employees -- drive our economy by providing jobs for more than half of the nation's private workforce, according to the U.S. Small Business Association.

While N.C. LEAP clients don't have to pay for the legal services, they do have to pay filing fees and administrative costs associated with their legal services.

Janssen says that the legal clinic will give business owners a chance to get a "legal checkup" and find out which areas they need more assistance in.

"Think of a nail salon owner or street vendors or families owning one restaurant," Janssen says of the type of business owners that could benefit from the clinic.

"There's a lot of confusion out there [about legal and business issues]," she says.

Business owners aren't the only ones who benefit from N.C. LEAP.

Janssen says this program gives lawyers who want to do pro bono work, but aren't used to going into court on criminal matters, a chance to make a difference.

Janssen says that she never goes to court and working with N.C. LEAP gives her a chance to live up to the canon of ethics that attorneys live by.

"It's a way to see results," she says. "We help them achieve a goal."

Once business owners are a part of the N.C. LEAP program, they have to show their financial statements every year to make sure they still qualify for the free services.

Janssen says that business owners get to develop a relationship with attorneys. When they make enough money, they will know what to look for in a business attorney for future needs.

Janssen says that about 20 people are expected to attend the clinic and about 50 attorneys are volunteering to help.

The ceremony begins at 9:30 a.m. in the Paul Anderson Auditorium, at Duke Energy Center, 400 S. Tryon St. Clinic space is limited.

Interested business owners should contact Jessica Griffin at 800-662-7407 or e-mail jgriffin@ncbar.org to reserve a consultation time.

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