Tonight, beginning at 5:00 p.m., the Minnesota Justice Foundation (MJF) will hold its Annual Awards Celebration at the Lumber Exchange Building in Minneapolis. Every year since 1991, MJF has honored the work of public interest attorneys, private pro bono attorneys, advocates, and law students whose commitment to service shines as a beacon of hope and embodies the very best of our profession.
This year, MJF is pleased to present its 2019 Advocate Award to Lori Leistritz, legal advocate with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), Minneapolis. Leistritz has worked at MMLA for 30 years, and for the last 19, as a paralegal in the public benefits unit. Leistritz began volunteering for MMLA while she studied Russian Language and Literature at the University of Minnesota. Her first paid job at Legal Aid was as a part-time switchboard operator in 1989. She now represents clients in healthcare, Social Security disability and other benefits programs, and handles appeals up to the federal district court level.
Leistritz is an exceptional advocate who goes far out of her way to serve her clients. She meets clients where they are, whether in the hospital, in a homeless or battered women's shelter or couch-hopping at a friend's place. She sees each client as an individual and seeks to help them achieve their goals. She is amazingly creative, identifies solutions where others see no hope, and educates her colleagues, just as she does her clients.
With its 2019 Direct Legal Service Award, MJF recognizes Rachel Weis, managing attorney of Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM), Grand Rapids. Weis grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota and graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Communications and Women’s Studies. She chose to pursue a law degree at the University of St. Thomas School of Law because of their mission, which focuses on social justice.
For the past 10 years, she has been a zealous advocate for the communities of Itasca and Cass Counties, including the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Weis consistently juggles a heavy caseload of complex poverty law matters ranging from divorce and custody to housing evictions and government benefits, striving to meet the needs of the far flung rural populations she serves by practicing in both district and tribal courts. She is a true example of how to work for and with clients who are in crisis, and who are often facing significant hurdles that include extreme poverty, lack of access to phones or internet, lack of personal safety and chemical or mental health struggles. She sees her clients for the individuals they are, and without judgment, fights hard on their behalf. As managing attorney to the Grand Rapids office, Ms. Weis provides strong leadership and sets an example for her co-workers by adapting her practice methods to ensure client needs are being met, along with the expectation that they will do the same.
MJF’s 2019 award winners also include Michael F. Cockson of Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, recipient of the Private Practice Lawyer Award; and Law Student Award winners Brooke Hein, Mitchell Hamline School of Law; Abyan Gurase, University of Minnesota Law School; and Madison Van Cleave, University of St. Thomas School of Law.
Tickets are available at the door. For more information, click here.