By Dan Murphy
One neighborhood lawyer has joined a number of fellow attorneys to provide pro bono work to the stateâ€™s small businesses and nonprofits in the age of COVID-19.
Christian Westra, an attorney with the Ropes & Gray and a Charles River Square resident, helped establish the COVID Relief Coalition â€“ an alliance of Massachusetts law firms, nonprofits and government agencies established in late March to help small businesses and nonprofits statewide access emergency loans and other sources of relief during the pandemic. As of May 16, the Coalition had already received 200 requests for pro bono legal work, he said.
â€œWeâ€™re eager to help as many people as we can,â€ he said. â€œSmall businesses and nonprofits can go fill out an intake form on our website (at covidreliefcoalition.com), and that will go out to the law firms, Then weâ€™ll contact you and set up an appointment, assuming you qualify and most people qualify.â€
Westra added, â€œWeâ€™re a pretty broad-based group, so we try to be as inclusive as possible and get the word out to as many people as we can.â€
Through the Coalition, referrals are shared between participating law firms, and they communicate on how to help guide clients through the process with the Small Business Administration, among other entities.
â€œWe also help people how to deal with challenges of not being able to pay rent or utilities, and help with situations that are specific to their businesses,â€ Westra said.
But, as Westra concedes, even the Coalition members are trying to grasp how the constantly changing and seemingly ambiguous process works.
â€œOur guidance is continuing to evolve,â€ he said. â€œPeople donâ€™t have a clear understanding of how loan forgiveness works so we help people assess the risks and figure out what makes the most sense for their business and organizations.â€
Of particular interest to many of the Coalitionâ€™s clients are the terms of the Small Business Administrationâ€™s Payment Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable loans to small businesses to help pay employees during the pandemic. â€œWe expect to get more questions as people start to think about loan forgiveness for the PPP,â€ Westra said.
To help small businesses and nonprofits navigate this terrain, the Coalition has â€œtried to capture some key documents,â€ as well as providing contact information for other sources of relief specific to their circumstances. The Coalition also provides information on how to access unemployment benefits and other resources to help individuals.
Westra said his commitment to the Coalition was spurred by his desire to help the neighborhood he loves recover from the ongoing pandemic.
â€œAs a neighbor and someone who lives right next to Charles Street, it was heartbreaking to see all the closed shops and how it impacted people in such a significant way,â€™ he said. â€œBut one of the things I can do as a lawyer is help marshal my colleagues to give free legal advice through the coalition.â€
To learn more, visit covidreliefcoalition.com.