Bar advocates to make sure lawyers are not forgotten when it comes to small business assistance
Some Florida Bar members are eager to make sure their profession isn’t forgotten when lawmakers craft financial rescue plans for small business in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic.
At a March 20 Executive Committee meeting, President John Stewart asked the Legislation Committee to weigh a request from the Criminal Law Section to appoint a “quick reaction” team made up of Tax Law Section and Legislation Committee members.
“The very survival of many law firms that are the bedrock of our Bar may be threatened,” Criminal Law Section Chair-elect Warren Lindsey wrote in a March 19 email to Stewart.
Stewart said he was confident that Bar staff and legislative advocates were staying abreast of the latest legislative developments.
“I would say that 90 percent of their request, which is a good idea, we’re already doing, and or accomplishing,” Stewart said.
Stewart asked the Legislation Committee to study the issue and determine if any further action was necessary.
On March 24, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that two Tallahassee businesses were the first to receive assistance from a $50 million, Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Florida businesses with between two and 100 employees can apply for interest-free loans of up to $50,000 while they wait for a Small Business Administration loan or secure a commercial loan, according to a DOE press release.
How well the bridge loan program will meet Florida’s needs remain unclear.
DOE has declined to release specific numbers but has reported a 17% increase in unemployment compensation claims in the past two weeks.
A DOE spokesman told the Miami Herald that the agency fielded more than 78,000 phone calls for assistance between Monday and Wednesday of last week, up from 28,000 calls the entire previous week.
Nationally, unemployment claims have risen 33% since the virus outbreak, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
On Tuesday, Congress remained at a stalemate over a nearly $2 trillion economic bailout plan. An early version of the legislation included $300 billion for small business loans for entities with 500 or fewer employees.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses released a survey earlier this week that showed 76% of small businesses have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, mostly from supply chain disruptions and loss of customers. About 25% of respondents reported being impacted at the beginning of March.
More than 60% of The Florida Bar’s 100,000-plus members are sole practitioners or belong to small law firms.
Small law firms are especially vulnerable to the economic crisis and uncertainty linked to COVID-19 epidemic, said Lindsey, a former Legislation Committee chair and Young Lawyers Division president.
Court activity has slowed to a trickle to accommodate social distancing mandates and many clients, facing the loss of the next paycheck, may be unable to pay the next legal invoice, Lindsey said.
“Everyone knows small law firms have unique challenges in situations like this,” Lindsey said. “Because small law firms often require consistent cash flow to make payroll, to pay their basic overhead expenses.”
Lindsey knows that the Bar has a formal process for adopting legislative positions, but he doesn’t believe many members would object to advocating for small business assistance.
“It’s not like it’s a highly debated social issue,” he said.