Innovations for Clients: Increasing Access to Justice for All Minnesotans

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By Betsy Parrell, Supervising Attorney

As State Support’s work on rebuilding the LawHelpMN.org website continues, excitement is building for the new navigation tool it will feature: the LawHelp Guide. The LawHelp 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 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.

In keeping with the strategic goals identified during last year’s Justice for All strategic planning, the LawHelp Guide is intended to improve the ability of Minnesotans to connect with the legal services most relevant to their particular situation, and for which they are most likely to be eligible, along a “continuum of meaningful and appropriate services.” Offering referrals along that continuum includes 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.

Offering referrals along this continuum also means recognizing the needs and challenges of low- and moderate-income people who aren’t financially eligible for traditional legal aid services, as well as those who may want to try to resolve their problem outside the court system.  It is a particularly advantageous time to be developing the LawHelp Guide because of important recent developments in Minnesota intended to help close those gaps:

  • The Low Fee Family Law Project has expanded its reach statewide, matching those whose limited incomes exceed legal aid guidelines and who are likewise not eligible for pro bono legal services with attorneys who are interested in serving modest-means family law clients at a reduced rate.

  • The recently established Minnesota Unbundled Law Project connects individuals looking for low-cost legal options with private attorneys offering limited scope or “unbundled” legal services, an arrangement that allows an attorney and a client to customize legal services according to the client’s needs and budget.

  • Six nonprofit mediation and conflict resolution service providers across Minnesota have banded together to form Community Mediation Minnesota. Their services are available statewide, and now include remote mediation availability.  Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post featuring Community Mediation Minnesota to learn more!

As we near the launch of the newly rebuilt LawHelpMN.org in early 2019, State Support anticipates continued collaboration and innovation with service providers across a continuum of services to facilitate an ever- expanding access to justice for those seeking civil legal assistance in Minnesota.    

Holiday Stress? Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers Can Help

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Lawyers are exposed to unique stresses on the job, including secondary trauma from clients’ cases and difficulties, as well as the general environment of an adversarial system. With the addition of personal stresses and the holiday season, it can be a tough time.

Help and resources are available through the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, which links to excellent articles about stress and related issues. Closer to home, Minnesota’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) provides free counseling and referrals to resources, as well as mentoring, coaching, peer support and a fund that can help with medical appointments related to mental health or substance use treatment needs. LCL is also available for continuing legal education, law school presentations, and other programs upon request.

LCL helps lawyers, judges, law students and their immediate family members with any issues that cause stress or distress. Joan Bibelhausen, LCL’s executive director, said, “If you think it will get better on its own, it won’t. Call LCL. We’ll help.”

To contact LCL, call 651-646-5590, email help@mnlcl.org, or visit their website at www.mnlcl.org.   If you would like to talk to someone immediately, counselors are available 24/7. 

Mayor and Local Housing Advocates Launch "More Representation Minneapolis"

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The Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), along with a group of twelve area law firms, have joined forces to combat the growing problem of unrepresented litigants in housing court. Their initiative - More Representation Minneapolis - will bring an increased cohort of pro bono attorneys to the aid of low-income tenants in eviction defense and rent escrow/tenant remedy actions in 2019. VLN and MMLA will anchor the More Representation Minneapolis project, which has a short-term goal of adding 25 additional attorneys to VLN’s network, and increasing their housing representation work by 20 percent.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the project will help prevent unfair evictions by utilizing the existing resources in our legal community, and it dovetails with the $150,000 in his 2019 proposed city budget to launch a pilot project to fund legal services for low-income renters facing displacement.

Speaking to the Star Tribune, Luke Grundman, managing attorney of the housing unit at MMLA, said, “People have nowhere to go. If you have an eviction on your record, it’s almost impossible [to find housing].”

Read more about More Representation Minneapolis in the Minnesota Lawyer.

Minnesota Celebrates National Pro Bono Week

October 21 – 27, 2018, marks National Pro Bono Week —the American Bar Association’s annual celebration in recognition of the efforts of current pro bono volunteers, and its hopes for increased support and collaboration. Pro bono plays a vital role in closing the justice gap by helping to increase the number of low-income individuals who can get legal advice at crucial moments.

Locally, pro bono “hubs” are being hosted by several corporate legal offices where volunteer attorneys will gather to answer questions on the Minnesota Legal Advice Online (MLAO) platform. MLAO’s web-based format helps eliminate the geographic and time barriers often faced when seeking legal assistance. Clients who live in remote areas, lack reliable transportation, or work night shifts can access legal clinic-style services that would otherwise be unavailable. Lawyers can respond to questions from clients anywhere in Minnesota, from wherever the lawyer is located.

On October 24th, join the Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) for its Pro Bono Week Happy Hour at Lakes and Legends Brewing Co. in Minneapolis. The event will celebrate the volunteers, donors and staff that make pro bono happen in Minnesota. Visit the ProJusticeMN calendar for more information and other happenings during Pro Bono Week.