01.15.21 — The Boston Bar Association (BBA) will honor the COVID Relief Coalition with its 2020 Empowerment Award at the organization’s virtual Beacon Awards ceremony on Thursday, January 28, 2021. Priya Lane ’13 and Russell Paul ’18 have played pivotal roles in the success of the COVID Relief Coalition, which synthesizes the sources of relief that are available to small businesses and nonprofits in the Greater Boston area into a single online resource, and then offers small businesses and nonprofits pro bono legal services. Ropes & Gray and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) lead the coalition. The Beacon Awards recognize powerful advocates 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, equality and inclusion.

Lane and Paul helped build the COVID Relief Coalition from the ground up. Small businesses were directed to Lane, director of LCR’s BizGrow, which provides minority, immigrant, and women entrepreneurs with free legal assistance, technical support and education, and nonprofits were directed to Paul, nonprofit assistance manager at Lawyers Clearing House.

“I began to receive urgent legal inquiries, sometimes in the middle of the night, on a wide-range of small business matters, particularly landlord/tenant issues,” said Lane. “There was a moratorium on commercial evictions, but small commercial tenants were still being sent eviction notices. It was especially hard on restaurant owners, who were trying to keep staff paid as line cooks or takeout drivers. Many of them were people of color or immigrants who either didn’t have the resources to negotiate, or felt a power imbalance. Their stories were heartbreaking. We would provide them with legal and technical assistance, including coaching on rent abatement strategies, to make sure that they knew their rights — and that they could assert their rights. In this manner, we helped to close the resource gap amidst COVID-19, particularly in communities of color, immigrant communities, and low-income communities. Even just one conversation with a pro bono attorney can be so empowering.”

“We were the bridge between the clients and the firms,” said Paul. “Someone would reach out to one of us and we’d have an initial consultation with them to get to the heart of what they needed. Then we’d connect them with a Coalition member with expertise — all within 48 to 72 hours. It was like we were the primary care physicians fielding the general questions, and then turning them over to the ‘specialists’ in the law firms.”

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country and is a national leader in legal education reform. Founded with cooperative legal education as the cornerstone of its program, Northeastern guarantees its students unparalleled practical legal work experiences. All students participate in full-time legal placements, and can choose from the more than 1,500 employers worldwide participating in the school’s signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. The future of legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experience to successfully practice law.

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