Interview: Davis Polk lawyers supporting the Council for Black Business Enterprises
Davis Polk is proud to have a strong and growing program of corporate and transactional pro bono work serving nonprofits, small businesses and other clients. One exciting project has been our assistance to a new nonprofit, the Council for Black Business Enterprises (CBBE). We recently spoke to Harshil Shukla, Pro Bono Attorney for Corporate & Transactional Matters, and Amber Leary, a third-year Restructuring associate, about this work.
Tell us about CBBE – its mission and the services it offers to Black-owned businesses.
Harshil: Starting in early 2020, CBBE’s founder Danielle Douglas, a Black woman and owner of a consulting firm in New York City, brought together an amazing group of leaders in the local Black business community to address the systemic disparities Black-owned businesses face in securing access to capital and opportunities. The effort took on particular urgency during the COVID pandemic, which hit marginalized communities especially hard. The group’s programs include mentoring, networking and education, with a particular focus on capacity building and helping community members gain access to and succeed in securing contracting opportunities.
How did our lawyers get involved with CBBE?
Harshil: CBBE board member Valerie White, the Senior Executive Director of nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) NYC, knew Diane Lucas, our Pro Bono Counsel for Racial Justice Initiatives, and suggested Davis Polk work with CBBE to help the group get off the ground. We jumped at the opportunity because we really believe in the mission. This work connects with several strands of our pro bono program: our ongoing commitment to racial justice work, COVID-related assistance, and expanding our transactional and corporate pro bono practice.
What types of work have we done for CBBE?
Harshil: We helped CBBE incorporate as a Delaware nonprofit, which included drafting its bespoke organizational documents, and file its pending application with the IRS for tax-exempt status. Davis Polk lawyers attend nearly every board meeting and have recommended, drafted and helped implement a variety of policies and procedures, including on conflicts of interest, document retention and social media use. We also continue to help CBBE navigate the numerous requirements placed on nonprofits by state and local governments. Our efforts have put CBBE on firm footing from a legal and compliance standpoint, so it runs smoothly and can focus on its mission and services.
Amber, what specifically have you worked on for CBBE?
Amber: Among other work, I drafted CBBE’s gift acceptance policy, which is an important corporate governance document for any nonprofit. I personally presented it to the board at their March meeting, answering their questions and discussing possible revisions. The policy was discussed again and subsequently adopted in May.
What other lawyers have worked on this project?
Harshil: The team is led by senior counsel and former Mergers & Acquisitions partner John Bick and Tax partner Mario Verdolini. Other members include Nancy Marchand, counsel and Head of Corporate & Transactional Pro Bono, and associates Benjamin Helfgott (Tax), Steven Jaffe (M&A), Shua Mermelstein (Real Estate), Ben Silver (Tax) and SEO Law Fellow Karina Mendez.
What has been most meaningful to you about our work for CBBE?
Harshil: We have been intimately involved with CBBE and Danielle looks to us as a trusted adviser. It’s been really rewarding to see the organization grow and find ways to help at every stage. With the strong foundation we have established, CBBE has been able to move forward with its programming, including two educational networking events – on capital raising and business opportunities – so far this year.
What should law students and other associates know about pro bono work at Davis Polk?
Amber: There is such a strong emphasis on pro bono work from attorneys at all levels of the firm. As a more junior attorney, pro bono provides a great opportunity to take on a leadership role. I’ve taken advantage of the chance to work on a variety of pro bono projects, both litigation and now corporate; it’s been a great way to try my hand at something different and learn something new.