BBJ Article: MLK’s daughter to lead new legal institute for minority businesses

Philanthropy & Nonprofits

MLK’s daughter to lead new legal institute for
minority businesses








Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of The King Center, has been named honorary chair of the Equalizer Institute, part of the New England Legal Foundation.


By Maya Shavit – Intern, Boston Business Journal
Jul 2, 2024

Bernice A. King, a nationally-recognized civil rights advocate who is Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, has been named the honorary chair of a new arm of the New England Legal Foundation. King will head the Equalizer Institute, a segment of the public facing nonprofit hoping to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs from minority communities and the law to kickstart more successful businesses. The institute is envisioned as a new type of business law tool, and will use Al to crowdsource and match minority-owned businesses to legal experts, dating app style. King believes it’s the next step in civil rights advocacy.

“Lowering barriers for entrepreneurs to participate in American enterprise is a critical step toward reducing economic and racial inequality,” said King in a statement to the Boston Business Journal. “The Equalizer Institute can facilitate the social change that comes from empowering economic growth through much-needed pro-bono legal services.”

The institute is slated for a soft launch at the end of 2024 and will be working at full capacity in 2025. It aims to serve entrepreneurs left out by traditional business law organizations. It plans to use Al and task-based assignments for lawyers to power a virtual law clinic.

“Whatever the legal impediment is, we will then match that entrepreneur with the available resources,” said Daniel Winslow, president of the New England Legal Foundation. “It’s almost like a free corporate legal services dating site that puts people together.”

Assuming a $500 blended hourly rate for a lawyer and an average billable rate of hours, it will cost approximately $600,000 to run one clinic compared to the $3.6 million it costs for the market rate of legal services, according to Winslow. The vision for the institute is to match founders to lawyers, especially young ones looking to expand client bases, up until the point where human intervention is necessary. There will be in-house counsel through Equalizer Institute lawyers who will take on cases themselves if there is no outside legal counsel for the job. There will be four attorneys and two other staff members, according to Winslow.

Most pro bono work is all-or-nothing for clients, Winslow said. “What I’ve described, nobody else does,” said Winslow. “Bite-sized pro bono.”

The institute imagines a space where a mix of technology and crowdsourced legal staff can answer specific questions, rewrite letters and help grow businesses with smaller but critical steps.

The only staff that has been announced for the institute is the Virtual Law Office’s project director. The organization has raised almost enough capital to launch due to donations from The Cummings Foundation, Rappaport Institute and M&T Bank. The institute plans to partner with 3Ls in law schools across the county to function efficiently, with Suffolk Law being the first publicly announced partner.

“Synergistically, these new lawyers can grow their practices as their clients grow their businesses,” said Winslow.

Winslow hopes that Suffolk County will be the first step in a national project to get more entrepreneurs with limited resources and disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed. He sees Dr. King’s positive feedback as validation.

King is the head of The King Center, an organization started by Coretta Scott King to memorialize the legacy of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., through education about nonviolent social change.

“Her name is very valuable and she’s a national icon through her family and her work,” said Winslow. “For Bernice A. King to come into this role and endorse this concept, we think is huge and exciting because she gets it. She understands the potential for this on a national level.”


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