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There are not many legal practices that specialize in serving the needs of LGBTQ-owned businesses. One international law firm is changing that.
Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP is a full-service business law firm that has offices in Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Savannah, and Washington, D.C. In April, the firm launched a new LGBTQ Business Practice Group that offers culturally conscious legal services to LGBTQ-owned businesses.
The first of its kind in the Southeast, the Morris, Manning & Martin (MMM) LGBTQ Business Practice Group counsels LGBTQ-owned and operated businesses on a range of standard business law matters––from finance to litigation to mergers and acquisitions––as well as on legal issues unique to LGBTQ entrepreneurs.
“LGBTQ folks have historically had a harder time accessing traditional lending and making connections in the venture capital community in order to get the funding they need to start scaling their business,” Charles E. Hicks, Associate and Co-Chair of the LGBTQ Business Practice Group at MMM, said in an interview.
“We're here to fill a historical void in access to capital as well as a knowledge gap that has existed with LGBTQ-owned and operated businesses in terms of raising money and scaling their businesses at a good rate,” he said.
Hicks said that those inequities became apparent at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when a study found that nearly half of LGBTQ-owned businesses that sought Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans were denied, despite applying at higher rates than non-LGBTQ-owned businesses. Financial experts point to "poorer economic conditions" among many LGBTQ-owned small businesses as a leading cause of them missing out on COVID-19 relief.
Hicks believes that a “lack of sophisticated legal representation for these businesses,” also contributed to this disparity. So the LGBTQ Business Practice Group was launched as a way to serve this underserved business community.
“Whether you're a commercial real estate business or a software company that needs help with intellectual property matters, the benefit of coming to a law firm that has hundreds of specialized attorneys means that you can just bring your business to one shop,” Hicks said. “You don't have to shop around several law firms to find attorneys who are willing and able to take you on. We are usually able to service any corporate commercial needs.”
The firm also aims to help facilitate economic opportunities for queer-owned businesses through supplier diversity initiatives.
“We've seen a lot of larger companies expand their Supplier Diversity efforts in the last few years to systemically invest in and provide equity for diverse and minority communities. They’ve shifted away from only changing their logo to a rainbow during Pride Month, to instead making strategic investments in the community throughout the year in order to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak,” Hicks said. “As these companies are aiming to work with LGBTQ-owned and operated businesses, Morris, Manning & Martin wants to partner with them, as well, to help increase the amount of money that they are putting in these communities.”
But the firm’s service to the LGBTQ community doesn’t end with queer-owned businesses. Morris, Manning & Martin also has a years-long history of partnering with various local and national LGBTQ nonprofits.
“We've always been very active in our community by helping LGBTQ organizations such as Lambda Legal, the Human Rights Campaign, and The Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia,” Douglas D. Selph, Partner and Co-Chair of the LGBTQ Business Practice Group at MMM, explained in an interview.
“We also started doing pro bono name change and gender marker changes for low-income individuals through Atlanta Legal Aid,” Selph added.
Looking to the future, both Hicks and Selph hope that the LGBTQ Business Practice Group will expand and cultivate a larger “ecosystem of excellence” for LGBTQ-owned businesses. “Our hope is that, over time, we become a network provider for LGBTQ business owners that is a safe, culturally conscious place for folks to bring their business,” Hick said. “One where they know they're going to be treated with respect, and they know that there are capable and competent attorneys to help guide them as they navigate sometimes challenging business terrain.”
For more information on the Morris, Manning & Martin LGBTQ Business Practice Group, visit their website.