Business Law Clinic and alums team up to help Athens businesses


A School of Law remote pop-up legal clinic recently assisted more than 60 local businesses with understanding the new Paycheck Protection Program, which is an unprecedented forgivable loan initiative authorized by the federal government's Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Additionally more than 20 of those businesses received virtual one-on-one direct-service legal counseling.

"The PPP is designed to help businesses retain workers and meet other obligations during this pandemic," the school's Business Law Clinic Director Willow Tracy said, "but understanding the program and the application process has presented many challenges."

The topics covered during the virtual clinic included who is eligible for the program, the nuts and bolts of the application, and how to collect and prepare documentation at various stages of the process.

Tracy enlisted the help of three law school alumni - Adam B. Land (J.D.'08), Gregory O. DeBacker (J.D.'12) and Wade A. Schueneman (J.D.'09) who are all lawyers at the Athens firm Fortson, Bentley and Griffin - to provide pro bono services to businesses located in and around the Classic City.

"Right now, small businesses - especially some of the very small businesses that are a huge part of the heart and character of Athens - are in crisis," Tracy said. "They are facing an extreme loss of revenue, and most do not have the resources to survive for much longer without direct assistance."

While there are programs in place designed to help, the process of accessing that assistance is rapidly-changing and filled with ambiguity, uncertainty and frustration, according to Tracy.

"For many business owners, who are already overwhelmed, it is simply not an option to spend their days trying to navigate these obstacles," she said. "It's been an inspiration to see the community come together to hold these businesses up and this includes our alums who helped with the clinic's programming and provided one-on-one consultations. We hope the collective efforts of the university and the community will play a role in helping these businesses get access to assistance."

Tracy said the coming days will be critical in terms of applications to the PPP and that the broader long-term legal questions presented for businesses by the pandemic will be lasting.

"There are a lot of excellent resources being developed very quickly by the UGA Small Business Development Center and other agencies, and the Business Law Clinic remains committed to working with small businesses in every stage of this process," she said. "Over the summer and in the coming academic year our law students will look more closely at these longer-term questions, and seek ways to share the information with the business community."