LLS Students Called to Volunteerism During Pandemic

Student community answers the call to help small businesses and community members find and access aid

Student volunteers clockwise from top-left: Jay Zamir-Khan, Emma Smizer, Austin Anderson and Elizabeth Lopez.

The question of who is most likely to benefit from emergency government relief efforts has an answer that the Loyola Social Justice Law Clinic (LSJLC) knows all too well: Such relief tends to be most easily accessible by already-privileged people and businesses, who have the legal infrastructure, advisory network or financial relationships required to navigate the application process. For that reason, in response to two recent COVID-19 relief efforts, the LMU Loyola Law School student community answered the call for volunteers to help small businesses and community members find and access aid.   

Two separate initiatives to help businesses and families seeking assistance-- one launched by our Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic (LIJC), and another by the Berkeley Center for Law and Business – paired them with law students who helped navigate the myriad steps and processes for acquiring relief. Responding to the LSJLC’s call to action, more than a dozen LLS students offered their time and expertise for these programs.

One of LIJC’s volunteers, Elizabeth Lopez, a bilingual Spanish-speaking Tax LLM student, reflected on her outreach to undocumented immigrants informing them of how to apply for aid through Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants (DRAI), a state program to provide one-time $500 or $1,000 direct assistance to residents ineligible for other assistance due to their immigration status.

“On a professional level, I've acquired expertise in so many different types of law even before I got into tax. But along the way, while making these calls, I learned that it doesn't matter how much knowledge you have, it's more about the human connection that you can make with the other person. And I think that’s one of the things we’re lacking during the pandemic.” She added, “I feel fortunate that I can share what I have learned with the immigrant community and that I am allowed to help.”

Another student who answered LIJC’s call to action was Jay Zamir-Khan. “I felt that perhaps so far in my law school career I haven’t really given back to my community as much as I could have. I hope in the future I can give back on a tax advisory basis, but I felt like now was the right time especially because of how hard everyone’s been hit. I can only imagine how hard it is for individuals that don’t have the same resources as we do. It’s evident by what we are seeing right now, and it’s evident by the calls we were making.”

The cumulative efforts of these and three other LLS students -- Sharon Ramirez, Selene Estrada-Villela and Kimberly Protzel -- resulted in more 125 individuals from the LIJC client community being informed of the DRAI funds.

After Congress enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, 2020, the Berkeley Center for Law and Business led the CARES Act and Small Businesses Law Student Support Program. The program reached out to law clinics throughout California to engage their schools’ students in efforts to prevent the limited amount of business relief from going only to businesses already backed by savvy financial investors. 

LLS’s own Austin Anderson brought his expertise to the campaign. “What we were told is there are a lot of businesses that need help understanding the relief options under the CARES Act and to assist them in navigating a complex and constantly evolving application process so that they could get in the queue before the funds were exhausted. What the CARES Act established was primarily two relief programs geared toward small businesses. One is called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the other, more well-known program, is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).”

The law student volunteers walked small businesses through the process of how to correctly submit an EIDL application online as well as how to liaise with a bank that could submit a PPP application into the Small Business Administration (SBA). Remarkably, a dentist that Austin and his partner, Chloe Stepney (LLS ’19), supported was able to use a portion of funds to start that developing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as respirator masks and face shields, using the same 3D printer in his practice for dental prosthetics and implant surgical guides..

Emma Smizer, another LLS volunteer in the small business program, found the practical experience invaluable. “I thought anything could be found on Lexis. That I would just do the research, and find answers to questions, and that was just not the case. Because the CARES Act was so new, you had to read what was written as the statute itself and then ask other people how the law could be interpreted. The experience I gained volunteering was in trying to answer questions there aren’t clear answers for and help people navigate that uncertainty.”