LASNEM and MMLA Staff Honored at Minnesota Justice Foundation Annual Awards Celebration

Lori Leistritz, Legal Advocate, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, Minneapolis

Lori Leistritz, Legal Advocate, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, Minneapolis

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.

Rachel Weis, Managing Attorney, Legal Aid Service of Northeastern MN, Grand Rapids

Rachel Weis, Managing Attorney, Legal Aid Service of Northeastern MN, Grand Rapids

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.

SMRLS Attorney Named "Up & Coming" by Minnesota Lawyer

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Every year Minnesota Lawyer magazine recognizes a group of attorneys within their first 10 years of practice who have already distinguished themselves by their achievements. Among them is Colin Laffey, staff attorney with the Agricultural Worker Program of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS).

“Being able to provide clients with the legal awareness of their legal rights, and then ideally seeing those cases through to an appropriate settlement or adjudication so they recover the wages, damages and penalties that they are entitled to — that is always a great feeling,” said Laffey.

Laffey and the 2019 class of Up & Coming Attorneys were honored at a Sept. 11th luncheon at the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis. Read more about Laffey in Minnesota Lawyer.

Pro Bono Attorney Got Her Start at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

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Now an employment law associate at Best & Flanagan, LLP, Ashleigh Leitch credits her early experiences with Legal Aid in Willmar and the Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) as crucial to her awareness of disparity and her commitment to justice.

Her inspiring story and subsequent work are featured in this month’s Attorney at Law Magazine Minnesota. In Getting It Done For Legal Aid, by Leykn Schmatz, Leitch recalls the guidance she received from deputy director Ann Cofell and how her work with clients changed her mind and heart. “Working at Legal Aid in my hometown helped me to recognize my privilege,” says Leitch.

Today Leitch is more committed than ever in supporting the mission of Legal Aid. After several years as a firm captain in The Fund for Legal Aid’s Associates’ Campaign, she joined the co-chair team last year. “The private bar needs to pick up as much funding and pro bono work as we can. We all took the same oath, we’re in it together, and we need to do our part to support Legal Aid. It’s our obligation.” Read the full article.

AARP and Pollen Name Jessie Nicholson to Their 50 Over 50 List for 2019

AARP Minnesota and Pollen invite you to meet their 2019 50 Over 50 honorees — 50 Minnesota leaders over 50 who are writing their own rules about aging. These incredible individuals are making an impact in many ways—driving the engines of opportunity in the business world, creating art and helping others do the same, affecting change in their communities, and finding new ways to upend the status quo as leaders in their work and fighters against the tired stereotypes around aging. For the fourth consecutive year, AARP and Pollen are proud to honor these leaders.

Among this year’s honorees is Jessie Nicholson, chief executive officer of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services. Nicholson was recognized in the Nonprofit category as a “Rights Defender” and her work protecting the civil and legal rights of low-income Minnesotans for over 35 years is highlighted. She and her fellow honorees will be celebrated at the McNamara Alumni Center on Thursday, October 17.

The 50 Over 50 list celebrates and recognizes Minnesotans over the age of 50 who have made significant contributions and achievements in their communities. People from across Minnesota visited to nominate leaders in their community in one of five categories: arts & culture, nonprofit, business, community building, and disruption. A transparent cohort of distinguished peers then took on the near impossible task of narrowing down the list to fifty of the most inspiring and accomplished leaders from across the state.