Housing Court Project Study Shows How Legal Help Can Prevent Homelessness

MMLA logo Small.jpg

The cover story in this month’s Bench and Bar of Minnesota is proof positive that the Housing Court Project in Hennepin County is preventing homelessness and family instability on a regular basis. The article, authored by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Luke Grundman, along with project colleagues Muria Kruger of Volunteer Lawyers Network and Tom Tinkham former Dorsey and Whitney trial partner, describes the project and a recent study examining its effectiveness.

For the past 18 years, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) and Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) have maintained a legal clinic at the Hennepin County Courthouse offering eviction advice and full representation, as well as help negotiating settlements and preparing expungement petitions. Recently, the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and the Pohlad Family Foundation have provided significant financial support to bolster this vital court project. The clinic is staffed by 11 attorneys from MMLA, and in 2017 alone, nearly 150 volunteer attorneys from VLN provided 1,400 hours of legal service.

VLN.png

The study on the project’s impact compared results for tenants who were unrepresented to those who received limited advice or help and then to those who received full representation. Eleven random court calendar days were selected for review. Results demonstrated that those represented in eviction proceedings have better outcomes and those fully represented have even more positive outcomes. Read more in Bench and Bar of Minnesota.

Out and About with State Support: Innovations in Technology Conference

LSC logo.png

State Support’s Supervising Attorney, Betsy Parrell, and Legal Technology Projects Manager, Jenny Singleton, recently attended the Legal Services Corporation’s Innovations in Technology Conference in New Orleans, LA. The conference is a chance to learn about cutting edge technology used by legal services organizations throughout the country and even abroad! Conference sessions covered topics such as Artificial Intelligence, text message integration, and data privacy and security.

Singleton also presented on a panel titled, Open Referral in Action: New Solutions for the Legal Service Directory Problem, explaining how State Support leveraged the Open Referral data standard in its recent work redesigning LawHelpMN and developing LOON, the Legal Organizations Online Network. To read more about how LawHelpMN and LOON use Open Referral, see Singleton’s recent Open Referral blog post.

Stearns County Self-Help Center – A Statewide Oasis for Self-Represented Litigants

CMLS.png

She’s called “the expungement queen” and with good reason – in 2018, Julie Kelly, one of only two full-time legal services staff at the Stearns County Self-Help Center, assisted with over 350 criminal expungements. Kelly, a paralegal, and her colleague, attorney Autumn DeCosta, both of Central Minnesota Legal Services (CMLS) – St. Cloud are the team behind a vital collaboration between CMLS and the Stearns County Law Library Board of Directors. Created to help pro se litigants and located in the Stearns County Courthouse, the self-help program had over 7,200 in-person and telephone/email contacts with self-represented litigants on 27 common legal issues in 2018 alone.

The CMLS Self-Help Center is open from 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and assistance is provided on a first come, first served basis. This can mean long wait times, but no one is turned away (though sometimes walk-in clients will leave and return the next day). Kelly and DeCosta provide court forms assistance, service, and procedural instructions for self -represented litigants already involved in a civil court action or looking to start one. They help with cases involving OFP, HRO, dissolution, custody, child support, guardianship and conciliation, to name just a few. They do not give legal advice but do refer clients to advice clinics or Central Minnesota Legal Services itself for full representation, as needed.

Dan Morris, CMLS managing attorney and supervisor of the program said, “I am singularly impressed with the quantity of predominately low-income self-represented litigants that Julie and Autumn serve on a daily basis, and how they are still able to provide excellent assistance to all in greater central Minnesota on such an impressive range of legal topics. We are proud to partner with the Stearns County Law Library Board in providing this indispensable service to pro se litigants and the county district courts.”

Since the program began in 2006, nearly 60,000 self-represented litigants have been served, and in 2018, they came from 40 Minnesota counties, mainly Stearns, Benton, Sherburne, Morrison, Wright, Hennepin, and Kandiyohi. In recognition of the program, its improvements to the legal and procedural standards of pro se filings, and its positive impact on the efficiency of the court process, the Benton and Stearns County District Courts issued court orders requiring that it review all pro-se dissolution cases before they are filed.

Coming Soon: The New Year Brings a New LawHelpMN.org

LawHelpMN@2x.png

The highly anticipated launch of the recently rebuilt LawHelpMN.org is just around the corner! In a short time, site visitors will find a clean modern look, a new guided tool for gathering curated legal resources and referrals and familiar and thoughtfully improved features such as the self-help library and the provider and clinic directory. Months of feedback, user testing and behind the scenes work from the staff at State Support and our website developer, Electric Citizen, will soon become a reality for frequent users of the site, as well as those discovering it for the first time.

Here’s a preview of key features from the soon-to-be launched site:

  • Navigational Assistance/Targeted Resources and Referrals: The LawHelpMN Guide
    The LawHelpMN Guide (the Guide) is designed to deliver a customized set of self-help resources and referrals that address an individual’s specific legal concern or problem. These curated results are generated in response to an individual’s answers to a series of simple questions within the Guide intended to: 1) narrow their legal topic, and 2) assess their potential eligibility for services based on a variety of factors including location and income.

  • Password Protected Online Database: LOON (Legal Organizations Online Network)
    LOON was developed to house up-to-date information about legal services available across Minnesota.  Service listings in the database include information about case types and priorities, case acceptance guidelines, clinics, and eligibility criteria. LOON usage began late last year within the legal services community to enable legal services providers to make more accurate referrals amongst each other through password-protected access to detailed, real-time data. Once the rebuilt LawHelpMN.org site launches, LOON will also power the referral information available to site visitors using either the Guide or the providers and clinic directory.

  • Expanded Continuum of Services: Access to Justice for All Minnesotans
    Offering meaningful referrals along a continuum means including referrals that are tailored to the individual’s circumstances across a broad range of services, such as legal aid organizations, legal clinics, law libraries, self-help centers, alternative dispute resolution services, and private attorney referral programs. Some recently developed or expanded services that will now be available as referrals on LawHelpMN.org include the Minnesota Unbundled Project, Community Mediation Minnesota, and the Low Fee Family Law Project.

The LawHelpMN.org redesign was conducted in partnership with Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, the Volunteer Lawyers Network, and the Minnesota Judicial Branch. The project is made possible through grant funds from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Innovation Grant Program, the Minnesota Legal Services Advisory Committee, the Minnesota Court Technology Fund, and the Minnesota Justice for All Project.

Here at State Support, it is our sincere hope that as the legal services community begins using the new LawHelpMN.org, you will share your feedback with us. Let us know what’s working, what you love, or if you find technical bugs or glitches, at statesupport@mnlegalservices.org or through the contact form on the new site.