A Boston-based legal foundation has ambitions to establish free corporate legal aid clinics across New England for underrepresented founders. To help raise awareness and funds for these plans, the organization is hosting an event celebrating a food historically connected with Boston: beans.
The New England Legal Foundation has been around for about 50 years. In that first half-century, the nonprofit public interest law firm has focused on advocating for free enterprise within the legal system. President Daniel Winslow said for the next 50 years, the nonprofit wants to make supporting inclusive economic growth a bigger priority.
“We’ve recognized that there’s a massive gap in the legal ecosystem between civil legal aid for the poor and market-rate law firms,” Winslow said. The nonprofit’s leader is a former Massachusetts state representative and was chief legal officer for Rimini Street before joining the New England Legal Foundation in October 2021.
Into that gap, Winslow said, fall many underrepresented entrepreneurs who can’t afford the fees at these law firms.
To help these founders, the foundation is building out the Equalizer Institute. This social economic justice initiative of NELF will provide legal aid to help entrepreneurs start their businesses. The institute will work with founders from underrepresented communities including BIPOC entrepreneurs, new and first-generation Americans, women, veterans, students and the LGBTQ+ community.
The New England Legal Foundation aims to support the Equalizer Institute by hosting the first Beantown Beanfest this summer. The event will take place on Saturday, June 24, from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
Winslow said they settled on beans as the festival’s theme because of their connection to Boston’s history (the city once had a baseball team named the Boston Beaneaters) and their role as an “equalizer” amongst foods.
“Beans transcend and unite every race, every culture, everybody has their favorite way they’ve prepared beans,” Winslow said.
Festival attendees will be able to sample some of these recipes from small businesses at the event. The Beanfest will feature vendors from across the region offering different cuisines and products that use beans, as well as music, entertainment, bean-themed crafts, games and activities.
Winslow said they’re not planning to raise revenue through this first Beanfest. But, any profits from this event or future ones would go toward the Equalizer Institute.
“There’s a lot of value in terms of just raising visibility for the cause,” he said.
The Beantown Beanfest has announced some partnerships, including with Astound Broadband, Boston Harbor Hotel, Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, Meet Boston and WCVB Channel 5. Winslow said they’re still looking for corporations to support the Beanfest. The group’s goal is to bring on enough sponsorships so small businesses do not need to pay to exhibit at the event.
The institute needs to raise $600,000 to open the first clinic in Boston, Winslow said. That would allow the institute to bring on a corporate lawyer, real estate lawyer, employment lawyer, IP lawyer and paralegal to staff the program.
Winslow said they hope to open the first clinic in their downtown Boston office and expand throughout New England, and, if the model is successful, grow nationally.
Winslow declined to say how close they were to raising that amount, but said that once they hit the full amount, they could open the first clinic in about 90 days. He noted that this $600,000 would yield about $3.6 million in market-rate legal services for underrepresented entrepreneurs.