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SMU Law’s COVID-19 Helpline Recognized by State Bar of Texas in 2021

SMU Dedman School of Law’s COVID-19 Legal Helpline, which Weil’s Dallas office helped establish and support, has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 State Bar of Texas’ W. Frank Newton Award for its exceptional dedication to legal services for low-income North Texans. The award, which recognizes individuals and groups whose work exemplifies a deep commitment to pro bono service, was presented during the State Bar’s virtual Annual Meeting on Friday, June 18. 

At the start of the pandemic, when businesses were ordered to close in response to health concerns, Weil’s Dallas office reached out to Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law and the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Project to create a referral system for individuals and businesses facing legal issues regarding COVID-19.

In June 2020, SMU Dedman School of Law launched the Helpline to offer North Texas residents the opportunity to secure free legal assistance with matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as housing, immigration and consumer protection. Working under the supervision of SMU Law Clinic faculty, 57 students staffed the phone lines which received approximately 2,400 calls over the course of the last year.

Weil attorneys created training materials on the CARES Act and local restrictions and trained law students at SMU to handle the intake process. The clinic resulted in cases sent to Weil and several other firms in the Dallas area on a variety of issues including evictions, bankruptcies, unemployment, CARES loans, business closures, terminating franchise agreements and renegotiating lease agreements.

The work of the Helpline is ongoing, and SMU Law students will continue to staff the Helpline phones five days a week this summer.

The Weil team that helped create the clinic included: partners Jonathan Macke and Vynessa Nemunaitis, and associates Neal Monson and Richard Riles.