Legal Services For Immigrants Strengthened by Landmark Gift to U of M Law School

On February 6th, the University of Minnesota Law School announced a transformational $25 million gift from the Robina Foundation. The grant—the single largest philanthropic gift in the Law School’s history—will fund the newly named James H. Binger Center for New Americans, establish a James H. Binger Professorship in Clinical Law, and provide Law School student scholarship support.

The gift will provide permanent financial support to the University of Minnesota Law School for the ongoing operations of the James H. Binger Center for New Americans. The Center brings about transformative change by creating a national model for the provision of comprehensive and cohesive legal services for immigrant communities through a variety of means, including improving federal immigration law and policy through impact litigation; protecting detainee rights and improving access to legal representation for refugees and immigrants; educating noncitizens about their legal rights; creating dynamic and comprehensive immigration clinics for students; and collaborating with others on immigration issues. During its four-year pilot program—supported by the Robina Foundation—the Center won a landmark case at the U.S. Supreme Court; won political asylum for clients from around the world; and won release for detained immigrants in Minnesota.

The Center has three law firm partners—Dorsey and Whitney, Faegre Baker Daniels, and Robins Kaplan—and three nonprofit partners—the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and The Advocates for Human Rights.

Founding partners Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid have worked with the Center for the past three years with a specific emphasis on the Center’s detainee rights work. Dean Garry W. Jenkins said, “The Binger Center will leverage a unique collaboration among our clinics, prominent law firms, and respected nonprofit organizations, enabling our exceptional faculty and students to continue to work on landmark immigration reform cases for generations to come.” Read more in the Star Tribune.

Study Shows How Legal Aid Secures Millions of Dollars for Minnesota Annually

The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition has released a report to inform policy makers and other stakeholders about the economic benefits of civil legal aid in Minnesota. This study, based on 2014 data, shows that legal aid programs have generated nearly $112 million in revenue. This amount is comprised of both retained and new federal benefits, protected and new non-governmental dollars, as well as avoided costs from domestic violence and homelessness.

In addition, legal aid staff attorneys spent approximately 350,000 hours on direct representation valued at $70.8 million in legal services provided to clients. In-kind revenue of pro bono representation represents nearly $33 million in donated legal time.

For every $1.00 spent on Legal Aid the return on investment is $3.94.

Legal aid provides direct service to all 87 Minnesota communities and has been a trusted provider of high-quality legal advocacy for low-income Minnesota for years. Legal aid focuses on resolving civil legal matters that directly affect the basic human needs for safety, shelter, and household sustenance.

The Legal Aid St. Cloud office, for example, closed more than 3,500 cases in 2015 on issues including consumer fraud, housing, immigration, and family law.

Saint Cloud attorney Brent Thompson and paralegal Heather Helmer worked with Andrea who had six children, ages five to fifteen, and was living in a battered women’s shelter in California after fleeing an abusive husband in Minnesota. Legal Aid told her they would take her case. Once home, a restraining order was put into place for her husband. Andrea enrolled at Bethel University, took two part-time jobs, and got her kids back in school. “Legal help at that crucial time can give people their freedom," Andrea reflects. “My life is as it should be because of the help I got from Legal Aid. There are other lives like mine out there, waiting to be changed.”

Read the full Economic Impact Report.

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services Releases Racial Justice Report to Community

The Racial Justice Committee of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) is proud to announce the release of its 2016 Racial Justice Committee Report to the community.
 

The report has three primary purposes:

  • Create awareness of how SMRLS is involved within the community;
  • Create awareness of the programs that SMRLS offers; and
  • Create awareness of the services that are available within the community.

The Racial Justice Committee serves to welcome all clients, encourages and supports a diverse staff, and advocates effectively to eliminate barriers for persons of color and to ensure their equal access to and fair treatment by SMRLS and the legal system. Download a copy of the Report.

Minnesota Legal Services Coalition Chosen as Host for National ATJ Tech Fellows Program

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Legal Services State Support, a project of the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, has been chosen as a host for the newly launched ATJ Tech Fellows program. Miguel Willis and a group of Seattle University law students created the summer fellowship program as a way to provide law students around the country with a unique opportunity to work on a range of innovative projects and initiatives aimed to improve the delivery of legal services for low-income Americans. They wanted to equip the next set of leaders with the tools and skills to leverage technology and innovation in addressing our nation’s widening access to justice gap.

In Minnesota, State Support will host a full-time, 10-week fellow to be part of its team. The Fellow's duties will be determined in part by the applicant's areas of interest and relevant skills, and will likely include work on State Support's document assembly interviews using A2J/HotDocs and analyzing and summarizing user data from these interviews. Learn more about the opportunity and how to apply here. Applications close February 15, 2017 at 7:00 pm CST.

State Support Staff to Present at Legal Services Corporation's TIG Conference

On Thursday January 12th, State Support's supervising attorney Mary Kaczorek and Legal/Technology Project Manager Jennifer Singleton will join two national colleagues to present "Using Your Data to Improve Your Projects" at LSC's 2017 Technology Initiative Grants Conference (TIG). The workshop will explore how tools like Google Analytics, Optimizely, and a pilot data warehousing tool through LawHelp Interactive can be used to improve online resources. Examples will be provided from the website world, as well as for online form projects.

This presentation will be streamed via Facebook Live at 2:45 p.m. CT on Thursday, January 12. To participate live, visit LSC’s Facebook page during the conference. Click here to learn more about Facebook Live. Find out more about "Using Data to Improve Your Projects" and other TIG sessions here. #LSCTIG

Bench & Bar: MMLA's Executive Director on Addressing Racial Disparities

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In this month's edition of Bench & Bar of Minnesota, Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, explores the hard and necessary work of addressing racial disparities in an essay focused on how law organizations, including legal aid programs, might do a better job. Read more.

Online Legal Forms: Minnesota Uses Tech to Democratize Justice

In June, a New York Times essay on the rise of online legal forms brought encouraging validation to Minnesota's legal aid community. Again this month, a Times op-ed called attention to the innovation and growing prevalence of online legal forms, mentioning LawHelp Interactive as part of a "Year of Big Ideas in Social Change." The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition continues to be a national leader in using technology to increase access to civil legal justice, and currently hosts 21 online interviews on the LawHelp Interactive platform, including the recent addition of interactive family law forms for tribal courts.

On Minnesota’s work, Mary Kaczorek, supervising attorney at State Support said, “The free interactive legal forms on LawHelpMN.org help maximize limited resources and expand legal aid’s reach to provide critical help to underserved populations across Minnesota.”

Attorney at Law Magazine Interviews MMLA's Cathy Haukedahl

Cathy Haukedahl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

Cathy Haukedahl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, was recently interviewed for a feature story in Attorney at Law magazine. Haukedahl shares experiences that have shaped her access to justice philosophy, the core values that influence her work with legal aid, and how the community can continue to progress in our pursuit of access to justice for the most vulnerable Minnesotans. Read the interview.

New, Improved OFP and HRO Interactive Interviews on LawHelpMN.org

Legal Services State Support is pleased to announce that new, and improved, Order for Protection (OFP) and Harassment Restraining Order (HRO) interactive interviews are now available on LawHelpMN.org. These do-it-yourself guided interviews were created by Jenny Singleton, legal/technology projects manager at State Support, in collaboration with the MN Judicial Branch, and with support from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program.

The free interactive interviews take users step-by-step through all the information they will need to submit to the court in order to request an OFP or HRO.  The interview then compiles the user’s submitted information and creates the forms the user will need to file with the court. Access the OFP interview, the HRO interview, and other interactive interviews and forms here.

Anishinabe Legal Services Announces New Interactive Forms for Tribal Court

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Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS) is excited to announce new interactive family law court forms for White Earth and Leech Lake Tribal Courts. The forms are available online through LawHelpMN.org and were created with funding from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program. These free, interactive tribal court forms, available through LawHelp Interactive, include custody and parenting time petitions and answers, in forma pauperis, dissolution petition and answer, summons, petition for visitation, orders for protection, motion to modify child support, and more.

The new interactive forms use guided "interviews" which take users step-by-step through all the information they will need to submit to the tribal court, and include video instructions and checklists for individual use. The interview then compiles the user’s information to create the forms they will need to file with the tribal court.

Cody Nelson, ALS project designer, said, "Providing these automated forms and document assembly services for community members with so few pro bono legal assistance options is a tremendous opportunity to increase access to justice throughout the Leech Lake and White Earth Reservation communities.”

To access the new interviews, visit LawHelpMN.org, or the ALS blog page.

Minnesota Awarded National “Justice for All” Strategic Planning Grant

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by Lindsay Davis, Access to Justice Director - MSBA

Last week the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), with support from the Public Welfare Foundation, announced the recipients of their Justice for All project grants. Minnesota was one of only seven states to win the grant, out of 25 that had applied, and it was the only Midwest state to earn the honor. Other states include Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York. Each grant award is for up to $100,000 for strategic action planning grants and eligibility to apply for implementation funding next year.

This initiative stems from a fairly recent Resolution on Meaningful Access to Justice for All from the Conference of State Court Administrators and the Conference of Chief Justices. At the heart of the Resolution is an aspirational goal of 100% access to effective legal assistance for essential civil legal needs through a continuum of meaningful and appropriate services. This means that ideally everyone who needs help with an essential civil legal issue (preventing homelessness, income stability, etc.) receives some kind of meaningful help. The continuum concept means that different individuals and situations would warrant different kinds of legal help, which could vary from full service representation through a civil legal aid program, to online advice or help from a self-help center in a courthouse, to a limited scope representation from a private attorney. It does not mean “Civil Gideon” or a blanket right to counsel for all cases.

The strategic planning grants will allow each state to engage in planning and coordination with relevant stakeholders to develop state assessments and action plans, in hopes of promoting collaboration and innovation to meet the essential civil legal needs across the state.   After working through the planning grant, the next step will be applying for an implementation grant to bring a piece of the plan in to action.  In Minnesota, the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, the Minnesota State Bar Association, and the Minnesota Judicial Branch submitted a joint application.

Speaking on behalf of the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid said, “This is an excellent opportunity for Minnesota to increase access to justice across the state and showcase nationally the many innovations we already have in place.” 

The Public Welfare Foundation’s press release is available here

Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota Presents Justice Awards at 40th Anniversary Celebration

Mary Deutsch Schneider

Mary Deutsch Schneider

Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM) celebrated its 40th anniversary in Detroit Lakes last month, and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Natalie Hudson was on hand with remarks about LSNM's contributions to the community over the last four decades.

Highlights included the presentation of LSNM's highest honors: its Champion of Justice and Partners in Justice awards. The awards ceremony was presided over by LSNM’s executive director, Anne Hoefgen, and board president, Lawrence McDowell.

Mary Deutsch Schneider was honored with the Champion of Justice Award for her significant and enduring services to the poor and elderly of Northwest Minnesota. Schneider was the executive director of LSNM for 24 years before being elected to the North Dakota Legislature in 2014. Before her time at LSNM, she was an attorney at Legal Services of North Dakota.

“Mary has taught and inspired many of us, regionally and nationally, to fight for justice for those that cannot fight for themselves. She has a legacy in civil legal aid that will last for decades,” said Hoefgen.

Recognized with Partner in Justice Awards for their skillful and dedicated service to disadvantaged and elderly Minnesotans were:

  • Ron Elwood, Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP)
  • Robert Enger, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM)
  • Mary Shequen Smith, Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS)
  • Rebecca Swenson, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM)
Ron Elwood, LSAP

Ron Elwood, LSAP

Robert Enger, LSNM

Robert Enger, LSNM

Mary Shequen Smith, ALS

Mary Shequen Smith, ALS

Rebecca Swenson, LSNM

Rebecca Swenson, LSNM

“Each of our Partners in Justice provide advocacy to the most vulnerable in our communities. They serve these populations with dignity and respect. The impact of their collective work is immeasurable,” Hoefgen said.

LSNM is a non-profit organization that provides legal services without charge to low-income or elderly in 22 northwestern Minnesota counties. The organization was founded by local attorneys that recognized the need for civil legal aid for the poor. In 2016, LSNM will serve over 3,000 low-income clients.

State Support and LSNM Staff to Receive Minnesota Justice Foundation Outstanding Service Awards

Ann Conroy, Legal Services State Support

Ann Conroy, Legal Services State Support

Among the legal professionals to be honored at the Minnesota Justice Foundation’s (MJF) Annual Awards Celebration are Ann Conroy, office manager/training coordinator with Legal Services State Support, and Robert Enger, supervising attorney with Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota.

Both Conroy and Enger bring countless hours of exemplary service to low-income clients in their work with legal aid. Along with fellow award recipients, they will receive commendation from MJF on Wednesday, November 16, at International Market Square in Minneapolis beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Ann Conroy will receive the Advocate Award for her demonstrated commitment to expanding services to low-income and disadvantaged clients through her unique and multi-faceted role at State Support over the past 18 years. As office manager and training coordinator, Ann supports both the statewide legal aid community, and the public who turn to State Support for civil legal referrals and information.

Robert Enger will receive the Direct Legal Service Award for his demonstrated leadership, and zealous and skilled provision of legal representation to low-income and disadvantaged clients. In his 21 years of work at Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Bob has broken down barriers for those struggling to attain economic equality, justice in law and life, and to meet basic daily needs. To accomplish this beyond the scope of his legal services work, he has worked with his neighbors in community organizations, with local, state, and national bar associations, and in international efforts – to help individuals and groups fighting the constraints and effects of poverty.

Robert Enger, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota

Robert Enger, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota

The event’s keynote speaker will be Marianne Short, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of UnitedHealth Group. Ms. Short’s address, “Building Pro Bono as a Core Competency,” will be introduced by Vice President Walter Mondale.

Reservations for MJF's Annual Awards Celebration may be made by calling 612.625.1584 or by sending an e-mail to admin@mnjustice.org

Minnesota Joins National Celebrate Pro Bono Week

The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service chose to launch Pro Bono Week because of the increasing need for pro bono services during these harsh economic times and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this demand. The National Pro Bono Celebration can be an effective strategic tool for enhancing and expanding local efforts to increase access to justice for all.

Here in Minnesota, Pro Bono Week provides an opportunity for the legal profession and the larger community to focus on the important service provided by pro bono lawyers. Throughout the week, legal aid providers schedule opportunities to serve clients, train attorneys, and recognize service. On Wednesday, October 26 (12 p.m.) at the Minnesota CLE Center in Minneapolis, the Minnesota State Bar Association will host its annual Pro Bono CLE, the signature statewide event for the week. This year’s topic is “The Criminalization of Poverty,” featuring a keynote by Nusrat Choudhury from the ACLU Racial Justice Project in New York, as well as a panel of local legal and community experts. Registration information for this event, as well as a full schedule of events around Minnesota for the week, are available at www.projusticemn.org/calendar.

"We are bound by a responsibility to use our unique skills and training - not just to advance cases, but to serve a cause; and to help our nation fulfill its founding promise of equal justice under law...The obligation of pro bono service must become a part of the DNA of both the legal profession and of every lawyer."
- Attorney General Eric Holder

Read Attorney General Eric Holder's address to participants at the National Pro Bono Summit on October 24, 2011 in Washington, D.C.