BizGrow draws hundreds
Attorneys from top firms offer free legal help to businesses
Nearly 280 minority-owned businesses received free legal consultation and technical assistance from pro bono attorneys from 14 different firms at BizGrow, an event hosted last Wednesday at Suffolk Law School by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.
The participating Boston law firms included Goodwin LLP, Latham & Watkins LLP, Nixon Peabody, Morgan Lewis, Foley Hoag, WilmerHale and Ropes & Gray.
BizGrow also offered 20 different business workshops on topics such as contracts, raising capital, health insurance options and financial lending.
The annual event, which launched last year, is part of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Economic Justice Project, designed to support and empower small businesses from all economic sectors.
“We try to offer holistic services for both existing businesses or for entrepreneurs thinking about starting a business,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee.
“Economic empowerment is a key part of the civil rights agenda,” said Priya Lane, the Economic Justice Project director for the Lawyers’ Committee. “In Boston, now more than ever, we need to support small businesses to help build wealth in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods.”
According to Lane, this year’s BizGrow saw double the number of registered people compared to the previous year.
Food businesses in particular are popular ventures, said Lane. To serve that demand, she said, “We offer a 13-week program called Food Biz 101 with Commonwealth Kitchen, which has participation from 60 percent women and 90 percent people of color.”
Matthew Lynch, an attorney with Nixon Peabody LLP and a Lawyers’ Committee board member, was one of the volunteer attorneys at BizGrow.
Lynch said most of the entrepreneurs he provided free consultations to had questions on food service regulations, employment and leasing.
“We’re not litigators, so this is an opportunity for us to do pro bono work in what we specialize in,” he said.
Julie Stande, an attorney with Nixon Peabody, said, “Folks starting new businesses, they usually don’t have access to lawyers, so it’s a great opportunity for us to offer services and link them to pro bono lawyers at our firm if they need it.”
Anna Dodson, a partner at Goodwin Procter LLP and a Lawyers’ Committee board member, said most entrepreneurs she spoke to had questions on borrowing money, managing debt, trademarking and even how to acquire another business.
“We help people think about their situation, formulate specific questions and articulate them when they are seeking legal representation,” she said.
“Civil rights is important, and the ability to form a company is equally important,” said Dodson. “This is a community development project for us because we believe in vibrant, diverse neighborhoods that are stronger with small businesses.”
At an entrepreneur experience panel, one of the workshops offered at BizGrow, Teresa Thompson Maynard, owner of Sweet Teez Bakery, shared her entrepreneurial journey with an audience of other aspiring business owners.
“I love talking to new entrepreneurs because I see myself in the audience and I’m like, ‘Just do it,’” said Maynard after the panel discussion. “It’s very easy to get discouraged when you’re first starting out, but you don’t know what you don’t know.”
She added, “It’s all about supporting each other and sharing that knowledge — because we don’t have a water cooler to go to and do that,” referring to the proverbial corporate-world networking tactic.
At a health insurance workshop, Juan Lopera from Tufts Health Plan said he has partnered with the Lawyers’ Committee for a number of years to educate local business owners on their health insurance options. “What you are obligated to provide as a business owner depends on your company’s size. But there is value in offering health insurance regardless, to attract the right talent,” he told workshop attendees.
The BizGrow event was supported by Suffolk Law School, The Boston Foundation and Millennium Partners.