Minnesota's LawHelp Interactive Part of Growing Nationwide Trend

Yesterday's New York Times essay on the rise of online legal forms aimed at millions of Americans needing legal help for civil problems is encouraging validation for Minnesota's legal aid community. The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, and its project office Legal Services State Support, were early partners in Pro Bono Net's LawHelp Interactive initiative - a guiding force in the development of online interactive interviews which then generate corresponding court forms.

In 2015, over 23,000 legal documents were created in Minnesota using interactive online forms, the 6th most in the nation.  LawHelpMN has 18 interactive interviews (with 4 in Spanish), including interviews for creating eviction expungement documents, a motion to modify child support, and a power of attorney.

On the work being done in Minnesota, Mary Kaczorek, supervising attorney at State Support said, “As in Michigan and Maryland, the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition has been a leader in using technology to increase access to justice. Our criminal expungement document assembly tool – hosted on LawHelp Interactive – won a 2011 Innovation Award from Law Technology News. Tools like this help maximize limited resources and expand legal aid’s reach to provide critical help to underserved populations across Minnesota.”

VLN’s Martha Delaney Honored with National Pro Bono Award

Martha Delaney (L), Deputy Director, Volunteer Lawyers Network

Martha Delaney (L), Deputy Director, Volunteer Lawyers Network

Volunteer Lawyers Network’s Martha Delaney was awarded the Tanya Neiman Pro Bono Professional of the Year Award by the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals at the 2016 Equal Justice Conference in Chicago.  This award recognizes steadfast commitment and exceptional contributions to the delivery of pro bono legal services.  NAPBPro’s announcement referenced Martha’s work in promoting outcome measurement, innovation, holistic services, inclusivity, poverty competency among attorneys, and industry best practices. Most recently, Martha has been instrumental in reframing pro bono work in a broader context of social justice. Congratulations Martha!


MDLC on the Effects of New Wage and Hour Rules for Home Health Workers

A new federal home care labor rule is having unintended consequences for some of Minnesota's most vulnerable. The new law requires overtime pay and travel costs, which has resulted in a shortage of home care workers, as employers cut hours to save money.

Hundreds of Minnesotans with disabilities are now faced with gaps in care and how to meet them. Disability advocates such as the Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) have alerted policy-makers, and the Minnesota legislature is considering new funding  to help pay for overtime and travel costs for roughly 25,000 home care workers who provide services through the state’s Medicaid program. 

“If nothing is done, vulnerable people are going to face some desperate choices,” warned MDLC staff attorney Anne Henry.  Read the full Star Tribune article

MMLA Among Advocates Supporting Proposed Section 8 Ordinance

If a proposed Minneapolis ordinance passes, it would mean more housing choices in low-poverty areas with good schools for those using Section 8 housing vouchers. Currently, landlords can legally turn away potential tenants using vouchers, though Minnesota law prohibits discrimination based on enrollment in public assistance. Landlords cite concerns about additional inspections and maintenance costs associated with the ordinance. 

Among those supporting passage of the ordinance are Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), and HOME Line, a tenant advocacy group. Lael Robertson, supervising attorney with MMLA, noted landlords' freedom to continue screening tenants based on other criteria. 

“The purpose of the ordinance is not to require landlords to take vouchers,” Robertson said. “It really is to say, ‘Don’t deny them because they’re a voucher holder.’ There’s a difference there.”
Read the full Star Tribune article. 

Number of North Star Pro Bono Volunteer Lawyers Continues to Rise in Minnesota

by Lindsay Davis, Access to Justice Director - Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA)

Every Minnesota lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year (Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 6.1).  While the total number of official pro bono hours is not tracked in Minnesota, the number of MSBA members certifying themselves as “North Star Lawyers” (those who have volunteered at least 50 hours per year) is at its highest yet with 980 for 2015.  This is an increase of 13 members over 2014.  Overall, the percentage of MSBA members certified as North Star Lawyers increased to 6.71% from 6.46%.  More significantly, the number of hours of service increased from 108,500 to 113,000. This represents a 4.1% increase in the total hours of service.  The estimated value of this service is $22.6 million. 

A recognition ad with the names of each North Star Lawyer ran in the print edition of the Star Tribune on May 5, 2016.  A similar list will run in the May/June edition of the MSBA’s Bench and Bar magazine.  To learn more and find out how you can become a North Star attorney, visit: www.mnbar.org/northstar

National ProBono.net Features Local VLN Attorney James Mason

James Mason, Dorsey & Whitney LLP

The week of April 24 was the Inaugural National Reentry Week, as part of the Obama Administration and Department of Justice’s efforts to strengthen the criminal justice system. It seems fitting that the national site ProBono.net would feature a pro bono attorney who focuses on reentry issues. Thankfully for Minnesotans, they featured attorney James Mason, an energetic and passionate Minnesota volunteer who focuses on criminal expungement work through the Volunteer Lawyers Network. Read the full story here.

Everyday Heroes: Legal Aid Service of Northeastern MN and the Volunteer Attorney Program

What happens to those seeking justice in a civil case who can't afford a lawyer? What about those threatened with eviction, dealing with child custody issues, facing bankruptcy, collection notices, or any number of other non-criminal, yet profoundly significant, legal proceedings? How do those unfamiliar with the law and court procedures navigate such difficult situations? These are some of the questions posed, and answered, in a Duluth News Tribune article about the lawyers and advocates of the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM), and the Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP). These "everyday heroes" are ensuring that Northland county residents who cannot afford an attorney in a civil legal case are getting the access to justice they need.

"LASNEM and the Volunteer Attorney Program — Without these two outstanding organizations, the legal needs, in civil matters, of thousands of Northland residents would go unmet. Civil Gideon may or may come to fruition someday. Until then, we all owe a debt of gratitude to these organizations, the staff and lawyers of LASNEM, and the staff and volunteer attorneys for the Volunteer Attorney Program. Let’s all say thanks to these folks on Law Day — and maybe every day." Read the full article.

MLSC’s Inspiring Video About the Impact of Legal Aid

The seven legal services programs comprising the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition recently teamed up to adapt an inspiring video about what legal aid does for the most vulnerable in our community. The video, originally produced by Cleveland Legal Aid (CLA), tells the legal aid story in a fresh, new way. CLA encouraged programs across the county to customize the video, and Legal Services of Northwest MN, Inc. worked with the Ohio videographer to spotlight the impact of civil legal aid in Minnesota.  Please share the video far and wide, and help MLSC tell the legal aid story in Minnesota.  

VAP's Executive Director on Advocacy for Low Income Northern Minnesotans

Low-income people in northern Minnesota who can't afford a lawyer can seek access to justice through the Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP) in Duluth. VAP's executive director, Dori Streit, understands the obstacles, and her commitment is inspiring to others. In fact, she'll be honored next month with the MSBA's Bernard P. Becker Emerging Leader Award. 

"All attorneys have an ethical obligation to aspire to provide 50 hours of pro bono service per year," Streit said. "We work to make it easier for attorneys to do their volunteer work by screening clients for eligibility and keeping track of the details." Read the full story.

Dori Streit, Executive Director of the Volunteer Attorney Program

Dori Streit, Executive Director of the Volunteer Attorney Program

New Eviction Expungement Interactive Interview Now on LawHelpMN.org

Legal Services State Support is excited to announce a brand new Eviction Expungement interactive interview available online through LawHelpMN.org. The Eviction Expungement interview was created by Jenny Singleton, Legal/Technology Projects Manager at State Support, with substantive legal expertise contributed by Lindsey Hanson and Drew Schaffer of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, guidance from Central Minnesota Legal Services, and support from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program.

The free online interview is for those who want to ask the court to remove an eviction from their record, and who have either a Minnesota eviction case where the rent was not subsidized, or have a Minnesota eviction case where the renter received a Section 8 Voucher.  The interview takes users step-by-step through all the information they will need to submit to the court in order to request the expungement.  The interview then compiles the user’s information to suggest what evidence the user should try to get and create the forms the user will need to file with the court. To access the new interview, visit LawHelpMN.org. Other interactive interviews and forms are available on LawHelpMN.org/FormHelper.

The do-it-yourself interview explains the basics of eviction expungement and asks the user a series of questions about his or her case.

The do-it-yourself interview explains the basics of eviction expungement and asks the user a series of questions about his or her case.

The Need for Free Legal Services: An Interview with VLN's Executive Director

The Star Tribune recently interviewed Suzanne Pontinen, executive director of Volunteer Lawyer's Network (VLN), about how the program's civil legal services are as needed as ever. VLN manages 21 clinics and offers poverty law training to its network of nearly 1,400 volunteers, including 800 to 900 attorneys who volunteer annually. In 2014, as part of its work, VLN helped 120 people avoid eviction, and 68 people get old criminal records expunged.  Read the full interview.

MSBA Announces 2016 Bernard P. Becker Awards

The Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged Committee will present its annual Bernard P. Becker award for outstanding legal services to the following recipients at the April 22nd MSBA Assembly meeting.

  • Law Student: Krzysztof Wysokinski, University of Minnesota Law School
  • Advocate: Melissa Pfeiffer, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
  • Legacy of Excellence: Mike Persellin, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
  • Emerging Leader: Dori Streit, Volunteer Attorney Program

These honorees have demonstrated a commitment to providing zealous and skilled legal representation for low-income and disadvantaged Minnesotans, as illustrated in the following summaries of their significant contributions. Congratulations to the 2016 award winners!

Law Student: Krzysztof Wysokinski, University of Minnesota Law School
Mr. Wysokinski is a law student who has accumulated over 760 Minnesota Justice Foundation volunteer hours. His accomplishments include representing criminal defendants at the Neighborhood Justice Center, acting as the student director of the U of M Consumer Protection Clinic and chair of the U of M Student Criminal Justice League, volunteering at the Council on Crime and Justice (CCJ) Second Chance Saturday criminal expungement clinic, and representing criminal expungement clients through CCJ.

Non-Attorney Advocate: Melissa Pfeiffer, Immigrant Law Center
Ms. Pfeiffer is the Associate Director of the Immigrant Law Center (ILCM). She has over 11 years of experience working in civil legal services, and an additional four years of nonprofit service. She successfully managed a large expansion of ILCM's staff and service areas and was instrumental in navigating ILCM through the recession, when funding cuts threatened civil legal aid programs throughout the state. According to ILCM's Executive Director, "She has a deep passion and commitment to equity, justice and the protection of the vulnerable and victims of abuse. She sets personal and organizational expectations of excellence, has an uncompromising work ethic, and is one of the most patient, caring, funny, creative team players with the unique gift of making everyone around her better."

Legacy of Excellence: Mike Persellin, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
Michael Persellin is a staff attorney with the Senior Law Project of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, specializing in consumer and benefits issues. He has worked in the civil legal aid field since 1983, at more legal services offices than any attorney in Minnesota. Mr. Persellin's current practice centers on Social Security, debt collection, and Medical Assistance appeal issues. He is co-chair of the MSBA Social Security Disability Section, and edit's the Section's newsletter. Since 2008, Mr. Persellin has maintained case law summaries and an index of Social Security cases within the 8th Circuit. His deputy director describes Mr. Persellin as having "a legendary career as an all-around utility player for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid."

Emerging Leader: Dori Streit, Volunteer Attorney Program
Ms. Streit has been the executive director of Duluth-based Volunteer Attorney Program for the past four years. She is well-known for turning the organization around, and expanding coverage and local volunteer support, during a time of limited resources for civil legal aid programs. She has expanded staff and established a wildly popular annual fundraiser called "Lawlapalooza." Before working at VAP, Ms. Streit clerked for Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project and the American Civil Liberties Union during law school. Following law school, she worked at Indian Legal Assistance Program (ILAP) for four years. She provided direct legal representation to low-income clients on civil matters, along with assisting with funding development work for the organization. As a staff attorney at ILAP, Ms. Streit established herself in the Duluth-area legal community and developed an understanding of the legal needs (and barriers to addressing those needs) of low-income community members in Northeastern Minnesota.

(L to R) Mike Persellin, Dori Streit, Melissa Pfeiffer, and Krzysztof Wysokinski

Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) Attorney Receives Pro Bono Publico Award

Tom Walsh, staff attorney with the Volunteer Lawyers Network

Tom Walsh, staff attorney with the Volunteer Lawyers Network

Each year, the Hennepin County Bar Association recognizes outstanding volunteerism and pro bono service in the legal profession with its Pro Bono Publico Awards. Three awards focusing on distinguished service and excellence for public and private attorneys are given to honor and encourage contributions to the community.

This year's Pro Bono Publico Award of Excellence for a Public Attorney goes to Tom Walsh, staff attorney with the Volunteer Lawyer's Network (VLN). Details about Walsh's exemplary work and inspirational accomplishments are featured in the current edition of The Hennepin Lawyer. Congratulations to Tom on this well-deserved honor, as well as to James Long, and Don McNeil, who were also recognized for their commitment to pro bono service this year.