The COVID Relief Coalition has been recognized with the Empowerment Award at the Boston Bar Association’s 2021 Beacon Awards. The Empowerment Award is given to a powerful advocate that works to create systemic change in the wider community by amplifying the voices of underrepresented groups and advancing civil rights, access to justice and/or diversity, equity and inclusion.
Launched in April 2020, the COVID Relief Coalition—led by Ropes & Gray and its longstanding pro bono partners Lawyers for Civil Rights and Lawyers Clearinghouse—has provided more than 330 vulnerable businesses and mission-driven organizations with pro bono legal support to help them weather the storm brought on by the pandemic and resulting economic crisis. Approximately half of those organizations are owned by people of color, and 70 percent are owned by women.
The Coalition’s efforts have included the development of a comprehensive website that enables small businesses and nonprofits to learn about how to apply for emergency loans, grants and other sources of relief. To date, the site has had more than 14,000 visitors and been viewed more than 32,000 times. The Coalition continues to update its website as new legislation arises and is still receiving applications at www.covidreliefcoalition.com. The Coalition also established an intake system that channeled requests for legal advice through Lawyers for Civil Rights and Lawyers Clearinghouse. From there, law firms have been able to provide small businesses and nonprofits with much-needed advice on a range of legal issues related to real estate, contracts, taxes, the Paycheck Protection Program and more.
Ropes & Gray’s efforts were led by partners Christian Westra and Jenny Rikoski and director & pro bono counsel Roz Nasdor (all of Boston). In October 2020, Christian was awarded the prestigious Adams Pro Bono Publico Award by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in recognition of his work on behalf of the Coalition.
“As someone who lives and works in Boston, it was heartbreaking to see all the closed shops and how it impacted people in such a significant way. One of the things we knew we could do as lawyers was help marshal our colleagues to give free legal advice,” Christian said.
The BBA Beacon Awards recognize individuals, organizations and corporations that are forging innovative paths toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive profession and greater community.
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