A Beauty School Opens in Harlem

New York partner Steven Lutt helps a longstanding pro bono client realize her dream.

3 min read

In 2009, through our partnership with Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS), White & Case partner Steven Lutt taught a class at the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBRO) for small business owners about the basics of law and business management. One of the attendees of the class was Ruth Brooks, who wanted to use her impressive skills as a hair technician and colorist to open a hair salon in Harlem.

The ribbon-cutting (left to right): White & Case associate Maria Brusco, partner Steven Lutt, Ruth Brooks, teacher Billie Nevelle, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Alassane Dipo, Constituent Services and Immigrant Affairs Liaison, office of Manhattan Borough President.

Ruth had the industry expertise to run a salon and needed the support of an experienced lawyer to help navigate regulatory, licensing and real estate legal issues along the way. Steve was happy to offer his legal expertise on a pro bono basis.

Over the past decade, Ruth has opened two successful salons with the help of Steve's pro bono counsel. Steve has incorporated Ruth's businesses, negotiated several leases for her salons, protected her business when a broken pipe destroyed a salon and advised on other day-to-day matters.

Recently, New York State passed a law that presented an opportunity for Ruth. The law requires practitioners of natural hair styling to take a 300-hour course and pass an exam to obtain a license to serve clients. This requirement puts natural hair stylists on equal footing with cosmetologists, for whom the license requirement has long been standard. At the time the law was passed, no school in New York City offered the required course for natural stylists.

Ruth's professional experience positioned her perfectly to offer such a course, and Steve agreed to help her meet the legal requirements to operate as a school. Ruth developed Natural Hair Course NYC, an affordable and time-efficient course to provide job training to New Yorkers. "I and several very seasoned veterans in the industry have come together to fill the void in the industry we love so much," Ruth said. "Collectively we have 100 years of experience under one roof." Steve and associate Maria Brusco prepared and filed the extensive state corporate requirements and assisted Ruth in obtaining a license from New York State to operate a school.

Ruth's new salon in Harlem, New York City.

On March 1, 2019, the first class began at Natural Hair Course NYC. "It has been a pleasure to work with Ruth all these years," Steve said. "This school has been her dream turned into reality." Steve and Maria represented White & Case at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in February. Ruth's education space has several salon styling chairs, full-length mirrors, stations for washing clients' hair, mannequins for practicing techniques, workbooks and textbooks. Ruth said, "It's fitting to have Manhattan's first natural hair training program in Harlem, where Madame CJ Walker and Apex Technical School made history training African-Americans in this useful and lucrative trade." Ruth added that it was especially meaningful to hold the ribbon-cutting ceremony in February during Black History Month, given the history of the profession.

Other attendees at the ribbon-cutting ceremony included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, teachers at the new school, community members and local press. "This is a major milestone for our client," Steve said, addressing those gathered. "We are proud to have helped Ruth get here."



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