The Equalizer Institute

A new social economic justice initiative to augment our work on inclusive economic growth and small business.

Expanding access to the American Dream

The Equalizer Institute is a groundbreaking approach to leveling the playing field for aspiring business owners who have a business plan and a vision, but who do not have easy access to traditional capital to launch their businesses.

As a business and legal organization, NELF understands that legal costs and bureaucratic red tape are often prohibitive for many aspiring entrepreneurs. By eliminating this enormous barrier to entry, NELF has found an innovative approach to filling the gap in the legal ecosystem that now exists between civil legal aid for the poor and market-rate law firms.

Offering full legal services in the most critical areas

The Equalizer Institute will provide free legal services to historically under-resourced and under-represented entrepreneurs who cannot afford counsel, including women, people from the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities, returning citizens, first-generation and new Americans, veterans, students, etc.

General Business & Corporate Services

Formation, finance, and transactions

Real Estate

Leases and permitting

Employment

Human resources and workforce development

Intellectual Property

Provisional patents, copyrights and trademarks, etc.

How it works

The Equalizer Institute is based at NELF, in our downtown Boston headquarters, and will open its first legal clinic in Boston and Suffolk County for proof of concept, with plans to expand to other areas of Massachusetts–with a special focus on Gateway Cities– and all six New England states over the next several years.

The clinic will consist of four in-house attorneys based at NELF, who will share a paralegal.

The clinic will consist of four in-house attorneys based at NELF, who will share a paralegal.

EI will partner with law schools to create a clinical program to teach third-year law students how to start and launch new businesses as counsel for entrepreneurs.

EI will partner with law schools to create a clinical program to teach third-year law students how to start and launch new businesses as counsel for entrepreneurs.

The staff counsel and law student will be augmented by law firm non-litigation pro bono support for finite projects, while over time creating a referral channel for businesses that have launched and can afford counsel.

The staff counsel and law student will be augmented by law firm non-litigation pro bono support for finite projects, while over time creating a referral channel for businesses that have launched and can afford counsel.

At the end of their time with the EI, clients will have the option of being referred to lawyers and firms in NELF’s network for paid legal services, many of which will be offered at a discounted rate by our pro bono firms or by our newly graduated 3L student going into solo practice.

At the end of their time with the EI, clients will have the option of being referred to lawyers and firms in NELF’s network for paid legal services, many of which will be offered at a discounted rate by our pro bono firms or by our newly graduated 3L student going into solo practice.

Funding and Impact

Rappaport Institute

We are honored to be the recipient of a $400,000 two-year matching grant–meaning our funding is effectively doubled.

M&T Bank

We are grateful to M&T Bank for providing $20,000 in funding for the Equalizer Institute

The Equalizer is laser-focused on raising the rest of our funds so that we can open our first clinic in 2024.

Whether you are an individual donor, a venture capitalist, a foundation, or a corporate funder, every dollar will be maximized through not only the Rappaport matching grant, but also through the impact that the Equalizer will have.

Our first legal clinic will cost a minimum of $600,000 annually, and will yield more than $3.6 million of market value corporate legal services; this is a six-time return on investment for funders. The impact and ROI will increase as our budget increases and we build out capacity.

Join the Movement

Whether you’re a future client, a funder, a law student or law school, a potential partner organization, or a lawyer/firm interested in providing pro bono services, we want to hear from you!

Client

Law Student/School

Partner Organization

Law Firm

Do you want to join the movement?

Who We Are

Claudia Augustin

Senior Associate Attorney, Law Offices of Nicole M. Bluefort, LLC, Boston

Claudia Augustin is a Boston attorney who holds a degree from the prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy with a focus on human rights. Earlier in her career, she was a Research Associate at NELF and coordinated our successful nomination for the Equalizer Institute to be recognized as a Gold Level winner in the non-profit DEI category.

Jane Edmonds

VP, Programming and Community Outreach, Babson College
Founding Partner, Jane’s Way, LLC.

Jane has devoted decades to fighting for civil rights in various positions in government, academia, and her own consulting firms. Jane has served as the first chair of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination under Gov. Michael Dukakis, and later as the Massachusetts Secretary of of Workforce Development under Gov. Mitt Romney. Edmonds excels in finding common ground to create cultures of diversity, equity, and belonging.

Having spent a lifetime uplifting people denied their fair rights and opportunities, she has been named to the board of directors of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Jane has taught leadership at Northeastern University and, now as a vice president at Babson, she performs outreach and develops programs with organizations throughout Greater Boston, addressing issues such as recidivism and diversity, including through Babson Executive Education’s Leadership program for Women and Allies. Jane also has served on her local School Board.

Damon Hart

Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Liberty Mutual Insurance
Founder, The New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund.

Damon brings decades of professional and community experience to EI. Before joining Liberty Mutual, Damon served as a partner at national law firms where he focused on litigation and employment matters. Damon is actively involved throughout the community. He is a founding member of The New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund – a coalition of Black and Brown executives in Massachusetts working to address and eliminate systemic racism and racial inequity. In addition, Damon is on the Board of Directors of The Home for Little Wanderers and the New England Legal Foundation, coaches youth sports, and mentors rising professionals.

Dr. Natasha Holmes, PsyD

Founder & CEO, And Still We Rise, LLC

Dr. Natasha Holmes, PsyD is the Founder & CEO of And Still We Rise, LLC, a liberation-focused mental health and consulting practice based in Massachusetts that is dedicated to dismantling oppressive systems, liberating marginalized people, and providing culturally affirming services. Dr. Holmes is also a licensed Clinical Psychologist who has published and presented on the topics of race, class, gender, sexuality, intersectionality, intergenerational trauma, and engaging in difficult dialogues. Lastly, she serves on the Board of Directors of We Rise Collective, Inc. and Community Conversations: Sister to Sister.

Rachel Kemp

Vice President at Pickwick Capital Partners

Rachel has over six years of investment banking experience and over twenty years of managerial and financial experience. Prior to joining Pickwick, Rachel was the CEO at Arcova Technologies Inc., a consumer-focused predictive analytics company. Earlier in her career, Rachel served as the Assistant Secretary of Economic Affairs – Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Rachel also has held the position of Managing Principal of iparallex LLC., a privately-held company specializing in transforming distressed corporate assets into high-impact, high-profit companies.

As the daughter of Panamanian and Bahamian immigrants in the United States, Rachel was able to witness how her parents built their own business and will bring this experience, together with her professional experience, to bear. Rachel is a Boston resident, a cellist, an avid landscaper, and a member of the Museum of the National Center for African American Artists board.

Denzil McKenzie

Founder and Managing Director, McKenzie & Associates, P.C.

Denzil brings over 40 years of experience in the areas of business litigation, probate administration, bankruptcy, tax appeals, and business, representing in particular family-owned businesses and non-profits. He often serves as outside counsel to small and mid-sized corporations and non-profit organizations, including health and human service providers and churches.

Denzil is Honorary Consul to Boston, an assignment that involves representing the interest of the Government and operating the Jamaican Consulate, which serves the over 125,000 Jamaicans residing in New England. He has received many awards and citations, including the U.S. Small Business Administration, and has been named Massachusetts Super Lawyers and featured attorney of the Massachusetts Family and Probate American Inn of Court.

Denzil is active in many community and volunteer organizations in Greater Boston, including being a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Urban Ministerial Education at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and Vice President of the Executive Council of the Boston University School of Law Alumni Association. He is also an active member of Peoples Baptist Church, Boston, a 210-year-old congregation, where he serves as Legal Counsel and Vice Chair of the Renovation and the Business and Finance Committees.

Deval Patrick

Former Governor of Massachusetts

Governor Deval Patrick was sworn in as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on January 2, 2007, and was sworn in for a second term on January 6, 2011.

After earning his law degree, Patrick served as a law clerk to a federal appellate judge before joining the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund as a staff attorney. In 1986, he joined the Boston law firm of Hill & Barlow and was named partner in 1990, at the age of 34. In 1994, President Clinton appointed Patrick Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, the nation’s top civil rights post. At the Justice Department, Patrick worked on a wide range of issues, including the prosecution of hate crimes, and the enforcement of employment discrimination fair lending, and disability rights laws.

In 1997, Patrick was appointed as the first chairperson of Texaco’s Equality and Fairness Task Force where he led a company-wide effort to create a more equitable workplace environment. Patrick later served as Texaco’s Vice President and General Counsel, leading the company’s global legal affairs, and as Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary of the Coca-Cola Company, a member of the company’s senior leadership team.

Patrick graduated from Harvard College in 1978 and earned his law degree from Harvard Law School. Diane and Deval Patrick have been married for more than 25 years and have two adult daughters.

Vincent J. Pisegna

Partner, Krokidas & Bluestein LLP, Boston

Vincent started his legal career many years ago working for Greater Boston Legal Services as a litigation attorney in the housing practice, working principally out of the Blue Hill Avenue office of GBLS. Today, he is on the Board of GBLS. Vincent feels that the work of the Equalizer Institute is, in some ways, coming full circle in his effort to engage in meaningful work and he is interested in continuing those efforts.

Tom Porter

Executive Strategic Planning, Organizational Growth & Operations Specialist, Amherst MA

Tom brings decades of experience as a fast-growth ventures designer, operator, advisor, specialist in premium tech/educational services, and analytics-driven collaborator. He is a program concept innovator, with a record of building market-leading educational ventures, professional learning programs, media/technology companies, and membership organizations including best-in-class brand equity champions CAIA Association, CFA Institute, National Geographic Television, Discovery Channel, and National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance.

With broad experience in professional education, content, curriculum, and higher educational markets, he brings deep expertise in designing solutions and new programs to meet professional education needs. As a seasoned senior/corporate officer, Tom excels at leading efforts to set and accomplish strategic aims, serve and retain customers throughout the lifecycle, motivate and engage staff, and continually improve operating processes.

Lonnie Powers

Civil Legal Aid Advocate
Founder, Lonnie Powers Consulting

Lonnie brings more than 45 years of civil legal aid advocacy to the EI, devoting the majority of his career to establishing, building, sustaining, and revitalizing legal aid organizations. Lonnie served as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation from its founding in 1983 through August 2018, when he launched his current consulting firm.

Lonnie currently focuses his work on increasing funding for civil legal aid; expanding public understanding of the legal needs of low-income people, and the value to society of providing legal assistance; enhancing partnerships with the bar, the legislature, the judiciary, and the public; and strengthening legal aid programs across the Commonwealth.

Among other community service, Lonnie has led Commonwealth of MA statewide legal needs studies, and the annual legislative campaign for civil legal aid funding from the Commonwealth, developed new funding sources for civil legal, including the Massachusetts Office of Victims Assistance, the Massachusetts Equal Justice Fund, and a consortium including the City of Boston and several private foundations to fund immigration legal assistance.

Susan Stambach Sampson

DEI Attorney to Start Ups and Nonprofits
Community Advocate

Susan brings more than 30 years of experience working with nonprofits and startups, from early-stage funding to acquisition, as counselor, litigator, trainer investigator, and mediator, both within law firm and in-house settings – including tech and manufacturing – and as a solo practitioner.

Susan thrives on building new businesses, giving them a toolkit, seeing them launch, staying out of the way, and being there downstream as a trusted advisor when next-level need for legal representation becomes just that.

Susan’s area of focus is employment and HR law and she has returned recently to her roots of working with nonprofits. Susan is an advocate for traumatized students in the educational system, including being a surrogate parent making special education and IEP choices for children in state custody. Susan has practiced before the Tax Court, Patent and Trademark Court, and state and federal courts and agencies, e.g. MCAD.

Michael Brown

Principal, Public Purpose Strategies
Co-Founder, City Year

 Brown brings 30 years of experience in nonprofit leadership, social entrepreneurship, and policy development to his leadership of Public Purpose Strategies, which advises nonprofit CEOs on achieving breakthroughs in impact, scale and policy. In 1988, Brown co-founded City Year, a leading national service organization that served as an inspiration for AmeriCorps, the federal initiative through which more than one million Americans have served their country. Michael dedicated three decades to building City Year into one of the most successful nonprofits in the country, with programs in 29 U.S. cities, affiliates in South Africa and the United Kingdom and a budget of more than $175 million, including support from more than 40% of The Fortune 100 companies.

Named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S News & World Report and Executive of the Year by The Nonprofit Times, Brown is a recipient of the Reebok Human Rights Award and Independent Sector’s John W. Gardner Leadership Award, presented annually “to an individual whose leadership has been transformative and who has mobilized and unified people, institutions or causes that improve the quality of life on our planet.”  Brown is a recent past president of the Harvard Board of Overseers, co-chaired Harvard’s National Advisory Board on Public Service and served as a Hauser Leader at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Brown is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he was a member of the Harvard Law Review.

“The Equalizer Institute is a brilliant idea that will help level the playing field for startups in low-income and underserved communities,” said Brown. “When we were starting City Year, we benefited greatly from pro bono legal and corporate advisors, so I know firsthand the kind of difference this kind of advice and support makes – it is literally game changing. I am honored to serve as an advisor to The Equalizer Institute and support its important mission and work.”

Pedro Arce

Senior Vice President
M&T Bank

Pedro Arce is a Senior Vice President at M&T Bank and has been at the bank since 2018. Pedro started his career with Bank of Boston in 1991 and has experience in Retail Banking, Community Development and Commercial lending. Currently, he is the Team Leader for the Central and Western Mass Business Banking Group at M&T.

He has severed in an advisory and board capacity for ACCION USA, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Mass Housing, Adelante Youth Center, Merrimack Valley YMCA, the Lower Merrimack Valley Workforce Investment Board, Vamos Ventures, Cambridge College and Beyond Soccer. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies and Sociology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Management with a concentration on Multinational Commerce from Boston University.

Pedro encourages and promotes partnerships that help small business from start-ups, to the micro-business level to mature businesses. M&T was named SBA Minority Lender of the Year in 2023.

Daniel B. Winslow

NELF President

Dan served as Chief Legal Counsel to then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, overseeing a team of more than 800 in-house and outside counsel. He also was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he served on the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, the House Ethics Committee, and the House Rules Committee, among other assignments.

Previously, he served eight years as a judge in the Massachusetts Trial Court. Dan’s extensive private sector experience includes partnerships at Sherin and Lodgen and Duane Morris and, during his term of the Massachusetts House, as senior counsel to Proskauer Rose. Most recently, Dan built and managed a global legal team of nearly 70 lawyers and legal professionals for Rimini Street, Inc. (Nasdaq: RMNI) during the company’s transition from private to public company status. Dan has been cited in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly newspaper as one of the 35 most influential lawyers in Massachusetts in the past 35 years. He has an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell.

Christina Knowles

COO, Equalizer Institute
Executive Director, Beantown Beanfest

Christina M. Knowles is an experienced non-profit and public policy organization executive who will oversee the organization and operation of the Equalizer Institute clinics in partnership with Dan Winslow. She has over fifteen years of experience in government and community relations; electoral, policy, and legislative work; high-level fundraising; and nonprofit and public sector executive management.

She has also worked extensively with the business community to fund and pass policies on a variety of social good issues such as paid sick days, pay equity, voting reform, and transgender equal rights.

Christina has subject-matter expertise on multiple issues pertaining to women, gender, and the LGBTQ+ community. She is passionate about creating structural change and her work is informed and driven by the most vulnerable populations. Christina is a fixture on the Massachusetts political scene, where she was named as one the of “Top 100 Most Influential People” in Massachusetts by Campaigns and Elections magazine at the age of 27.

Throughout her career, Christina has held key leadership positions in dozens of legislative and policy campaigns pertaining to women and other marginalized communities. She served as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Voter Choice for Massachusetts 2020, where she created and managed the broad coalition working to bring Ranked Choice Voting to the Commonwealth via a 2020 statewide ballot question. Prior to that, Christina spent nine months as Finance Director for Voter Choice Massachusetts, the nonprofit and advocacy organization working on RCV as a policy and legislative issue, where she raised over $4 million from corporations and foundations and spearheaded the organization’s lobbying efforts. In 2018, Christina was the Finance Director for the “Yes on 3” statewide ballot campaign, where she raised $6 million–including $1 million of corporate investment– to secure an almost 20-point victory at the ballot to protect transgender equal rights. Immediately prior to this position, Christina did a tour in Washington, DC where she served as the Interim Director of Public Policy and Programs for Protect Our Defenders, the only nonprofit in the country exclusively dedicated to eliminating rape and sexual assault in the United States Military.

She has served as the Inaugural Executive Director for the following advocacy nonprofits: The National Organization for Women, Massachusetts; DirectWomen, a national organization that works to increase the number of women attorneys on public corporate boards; and the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation, public-private initiative to end the wage gap. Christina has worked in the MA State House as the Executive Director of the Caucus of Women Legislators, as a Legislative Aide for a committee chair, and as a Chief of Staff for a member of Ways and Means leadership. She has served as the senior lobbyist at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and as a communications and strategic planning consultant for the Center for Gender in Organizations at Simmons College and at the Center for Women Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Christina, who is an alumna of Emerge Massachusetts, is a past and present member of a number of nonprofit Boards of Directors, including Our Bodies Ourselves, the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and 2020 Women on Board. She is especially proud of her role as co-founder, former Chair, and current Board Member of UMass Amherst Women in Leadership (UWiL), an institute that trains undergraduate women for leadership careers in public service. Christina is passionate about public education and is a proud double UMass graduate. She graduated summa cum laude from UMass Amherst, where she completed her undergraduate studies in Women’s Studies and English. She also graduated summa cum laude from UMass Boston’s Women in Politics and Public Policy Graduate Program.

Tara DeSisto

NELF Development Director

Please contact our Development Director, Tara DeSisto, for more information on supporting the Equalizer Institute:
tdesisto@newenglandlegal.org.