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Dan Winslow knows good legal advice can be one of the toughest things for an aspiring entrepreneur to find. It’s also one of the most important things.
So Winslow is leading the charge, as president of the New England Legal Foundation, to do something about it. He is starting to raise money and support for something he calls an “Equalizer Institute” — essentially a free legal clinic he wants to open in each of the six New England states to work with underrepresented entrepreneurs who can’t afford their own legal counsel.
“Education and free enterprise are the great equalizers of our society,” said Winslow, who joined the legal foundation last fall from a tech-sector job. “But the barriers are formidable, particularly for new Americans where there are not just language issues but cultural issues.”
The institute would be a subsidiary of the Boston-based legal foundation. And it would represent a significant expansion. The foundation has an annual budget of about $1 million, and primarily focuses on filing amicus briefs in favor of free-market causes. But Winslow wants to raise $6 million, or $1 million per state, for two fiscal years. The money would be used to hire a staff for each state, ideally four lawyers and a paralegal as well as an internship program with a local law school.
Winslow would like to bring on lawyers with different expertise: corporate law, real estate, employment, intellectual property. Each of these centers would also provide a conduit for law firms that want to offer pro bono support to entrepreneurs of color or other small-business owners from disadvantaged communities.
Winslow has had a few high-profile jobs in the public sector. He was a district court judge, a top legal counsel for then-governor Mitt Romney, and, eventually, a state representative from Norfolk. In that role, the Republican was elected twice, in 2010 and again in 2012, before leaving in 2013 to work for Rimini Street, a Las Vegas tech firm where he eventually was promoted to chief legal officer.
For the Equalizer Institute, Winslow hopes to tap into the billions in corporate and foundation pledges for racial and economic justice that have emerged in the past two years.
“We know there’s a sustainable market for this kind of effort,” Winslow said. “It’s unbelievable, the interest now in free enterprise. People get it.”
He’s not sold on the name — at least not if someone with the right-sized donation comes along with a better idea. He added: “I’m happy to call it the, ‘Whomever writes me a check for six million dollars’ Institute.”