Legal Services Advocacy Project Publishes 2018 Session Summaries

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The Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP) has released its annual Session Summaries. These summaries address specific changes to Minnesota law made by the 2018 Legislature in a range of legal areas relevant to low‐income and financially‐fragile Minnesotans, and the attorneys and advocates who serve and represent them.

The summaries are divided by area of substantive law, and contain contact information for the lead LSAP attorney in that area. Read the 2018 Summaries.

SMRLS' Minnesota Supreme Court Victory Yields Custody Clarification

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Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) attorneys recently prevailed in an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The case, Christensen v. Healey, was centered on whether to apply the Minnesota best-interests-of-the-child standard or the endangerment standard to the father’s motion to increase his parenting time to every other week.

In the case, the parents had stipulated joint legal custody, with sole physical custody and the child’s primary residence with the mother. When the child was 7, the father moved to expand his parenting time to alternating weeks throughout the entire year. He lived an hour away from the mother’s residence.

Applying the endangerment standard, the District Court found the modification would change physical custody and primary residence, and dismissed the father’s motion. The Court of Appeals reversed this decision, holding that the District Court improperly focused only on the proportion of parenting time.

After SMRLS' appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the decision was reversed, concluding that the modification was a de facto change in physical custody to which the endangerment standard applied.

As a result of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision, district courts must evaluate modification motions under the totality of the circumstances to decide if it is a substantial change that would modify the parties’ custody arrangement. But, a motion for equal parenting time is not automatically a motion to modify custody because joint physical custody need not be equal parenting time.

Innovations for Clients: Made in Minnesota - The New LawHelpMN.org

by Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

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Since the launch of LawHelpMN.org over a decade ago, State Support has worked to improve the site’s usefulness and responsiveness as part of our commitment to access to justice for all Minnesotans. The redesign of the site – currently in progress – takes that commitment further than ever before, with the adoption of a completely new platform that will allow State Support more control over the technical aspects of the site. Goals of the redesign include better user experience and search functions, an online triage system, and a pilot of an improved online intake system. By building our own site, we’re able to fully customize LawHelpMN.org to meet the needs of the Minnesota community. 

Through legal aid technology networks and the annual LSC Innovations in Technology Conference, State Support staff learned about the Drupal web content management platform. States including Illinois, Michigan, and Connecticut use Drupal for their legal information sites, and their experiences helped inform our decision to use Drupal for the new LawHelpMN.org. The opportunity to leverage the work done by other states on the Drupal platform, and the existing expertise in the legal aid community, is helping make the transition to a new site more fluid.

Drupal is a free, open source software that grows and evolves as web developers build sites with it. The open source environment means a community of sharing and innovation, which reflects the values of both LawHelpMN.org and the Minnesota civil legal justice community. The continuing iteration within the larger Drupal community will benefit LawHelpMN.org with new ideas and options from a variety of sources.

Drupal sites use “modules” which are like building blocks. There are standard modules for forms, text boxes, search and other common elements of a site. Because of the open source nature of Drupal, modules created for one site and purpose are available and can be directly used or reconfigured to fit the needs of our site, saving time and energy in the development process. As developers create new modules, additional features and capabilities can be integrated.

Our hope is that by choosing to build the new site in Drupal, we can continue to make timely improvements and changes while making LawHelpMN.org more user centered than ever.  

Access to Justice in Minnesota: An MSBA Report

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The Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) and its Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged (LAD) Committee published the 2017-18 Access to Justice Report for Minnesota. The report highlights initiatives undertaken by the MSBA and LAD Committee in partnership with the Minnesota Judicial Branch, legal aid providers, volunteer attorney programs, and other stakeholders.

Among the highlights:

  • Minnesota partners are creating an interactive online portal to direct people to resources to meet their civil legal needs.
  • An amended Minnesota rule promotes legal aid's receipt of unclaimed funds in state class actions.
  • An MSBA delegation opposes elimination of the federal Legal Services Corporation which funds legal aid programs. 
  • A new statewide Low Fee Family Law Project matches clients of modest means with attorneys.
  • A coordinated response to legal needs in the event of a natural or human-made crises in Minnesota is being developed. 

Read more about these initiatives and other activities that help improve equal justice for all in our state.