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This is the first installment of our “How to…” series for new and small non-profits. Leave a comment with suggestions for future posts.

     When it comes to challenges facing new and small non-profits, one of the biggest and most confusing may be the legal requirements of properly setting up an organization and keeping it in compliance with various local and federal regulations. These legal considerations are numerous and can be intimidating: how to protect your brand and intellectual property, what policies should your board adopt to ensure good governance and financial oversight, what documents must be filed annually or bi-annually with government agencies, etc. If you don’t know someone who happens to be a lawyer with this kind of expertise, then may feel stuck between using your organization’s limited financial resources to pay for a lawyer or figuring it all out yourself and hoping for the best. There are, however, other options in Washington, DC to get the legal help your organization needs at no cost.

Bar Association

The DC Bar Pro Bono Program offers pro bono legal assistance to non-profits and community organizations that can’t otherwise afford it. You can apply for assistance and be matched with a lawyer or attend one of their Brief Advice Clinics.

Law Schools

Many area law schools have clinics that match law students and lawyers with non-profits. An example is the Social Enterprise & Nonprofit Law Clinic at Georgetown University, which offers pro bono corporate and transactional legal services to social enterprises and non-profit organizations. Other law schools in the region offer similar pro bono services for community organizations.

Law Firms

Washington, DC is home to many law firms — from firms with just a few attorneys to firms with hundreds. Most of these take on non-profits as pro bono clients, but it often requires finding someone within the firm who will encourage the firm to accept your organization as a pro bono client. Use this list as a starting point and visit the firms’ websites to learn more about their pro bono work and how your organization can be considered. In most cases you can’t just submit an application, but follow these steps and you’ll be on your way.

Online Resources

Online resources are plentiful but if you’re not a lawyer then you should only be relying on online information as a starting point before meeting with your pro bono lawyer. To get a jump start on the basics, check LawHelp.org/DC and Law For Change.

Any other pro bono legal resources you know of? Add them in the comments.