Jay Edelson
Jay Edelson

The novel coronavirus has presented Americans with a slew of health, professional and economic challenges.

For Jay Edelson, the founder and CEO of the unorthodox, tech-focused plaintiff’s firm Edelson P.C., it presents an opportunity for lawyers to give back.

“My view is this is the biggest crisis we’re going to face in our generation,” Edelson said. “Our impulse here is to help the community. The Chicago community has allowed us to thrive, now we want to give back.”

In early March, when COVID-19 testing showed a growing spread in the U.S., Edelson’s firm created a task force to explore possible charitable efforts and to identify scammers and price gougers taking advantage of the crisis.

“We’re doing that work on behalf of regulators pro-bono,” Edelson said. “The most important thing is to discourage that behavior. It’s totally immoral, and if a couple people get sued, maybe others will think twice.”

Edelson P.C. plans to donate around $250,000 to local causes in the coming weeks, Edelson said, and it’s encouraging other firms and businesses to get involved.

This week, the firm donated $15,000 to Koval, a craft distillery based on the North Side that’s using its facility to produce hand sanitizer for hospitals and nursing homes. The firm says it will add to that amount based on retweets of its announcement on Twitter.

“Due to an amazing donation from Edelson P.C., we were able to deliver 50 gallons to Howard Brown yesterday,” Koval wrote on its GoFundMe page on Wednesday. “We thank you greatly!”

The distillery has already donated 175 gallons of sanitizer to Advocate Christ Hospital, Little Company of Mary Hospital and Sheridan Clinic.

“That was our first donation, but we’re going to send them more,” Edelson said. “We’re also looking at doing something similar with a Chicago factory that wants to retool to make masks and hospital gowns. They reached out to us, and we’re going to jump in there too.”

After seeing Edelson’s tweets about Koval, Petra & Holum Presentation Packaging, a specialty printer and custom manufacturer of signs and promotional materials, reached out to the firm for funding, writing “our plant in Chicago sits idle while we could be making thousands of gowns, masks and face shields per day.”

Edelson has committed to donating $25,000 to the company’s efforts.

Additionally, the firm has committed to purchase laptops for families in need, which it has identified through partnerships in the Cook County courthouses in Chicago and Markham.

“Talking to the people we work with in the courts, we’ve found that lots of families don’t have computers at home,” Edelson said. “With kids expected to do e-learning and everyone being isolated, it can be a scary world without a computer.”

Consulting with case workers and social workers, the firm has pledged to purchase at least 100 laptops and WiFi access that can be distributed to families.

“We don’t have any business partners yet, we’re just buying them outright,” Edelson said of the computers. “We’ve promised at least 100, but we’re figuring it could be hundreds by the time this is done.”

And the firm plans to commit money it is saving by temporarily closing its Chicago and northern California office spaces toward local food businesses.

“We spend about $3,000 a week in lunches and food for the kitchens in our offices,” Edelson said. “We figured since we would spend that money on food anyway it would be a good idea to give it to local restaurants.”

The firm is ordering large amounts of food from businesses in Chicago, San Francisco and Chico, Calif., and instructing the food be delivered to area shelters and soup kitchens.

The firm is currently exploring options to expand the efforts to other small businesses, including independent theaters and salons by possibly purchasing gift certificates which could be given away when businesses reopen, or by making outright donations.

As Edelson makes these efforts, the firm is encouraging other businesses and law firms to do the same using #SupportLocalRestaurants to discuss their actions on Twitter. So far more than 20 other companies, including law firms in Florida and Pennsylvania, have pledged to take similar measures.

“It’s really important in this time of isolation to stay connected to the community,” said Edelson. “I think it’s good for the community but also for us mentally and socially — we’ve all really gotten energized by doing this here.”