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.

Minnesota Legal Advice Online & ProJusticeMN Featured in Bench and Bar

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October's edition of Bench and Bar of Minnesota features all things pro bono. Among them, legal aid's options for the busy Minnesota lawyer: Minnesota Legal Advice Online and ProJusticeMN.  These time-saving and innovative online outlets for assisting low income Minnesotans are explained in a featured article by State Support's Emily Good.

MN Legal Advice Online is a virtual legal clinic with a flexible commitment. Through an email conversation, volunteers select submitted questions they want to answer based on their subject matter knowledge. The site easily tracks volunteer hours for CLE credit or North Star Lawyer certification.

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ProJusticeMN.org, a website supporting pro bono attorneys and legal aid attorneys, assists volunteers in finding a pro bono case or project, or an upcoming legal training. The site also has an extensive poverty law resource library with practice manuals, document assembly tools, interview guides, and settlement checklists for different areas of law. Read the full article in Bench and Bar.

Rise in Minnesota Volunteer Attorneys

Minnesota Lawyer recently covered the marked surge in legal services volunteerism, speaking with staff from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) and Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN).

"Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen an increase in attorneys wanting to volunteer,” said Kirsten Olson, staff attorney and pro bono director at MMLA in Minneapolis. “That includes solo practitioners, larger-firm attorneys and even people who are out of the main legal arena right now such as retired attorneys and those working in education.”

One of the areas seeing vigorous interest is immigration law. “I think it does have to do with the election,” said Olson. “A lot of people say their interest in getting involved right now has been triggered by the change in the political environment and the ways that laws are being interpreted.” Olson also mentioned disability rights, gender justice and senior issues as areas of interest from volunteer attorneys.

Julie Thelen, development coordinator with the Volunteer Lawyers Network in Minneapolis noted, “We have monthly training sessions for about 800 volunteer lawyers every year. There’s a lot of demand for help serving undocumented (immigrant) clients, as well as need for lawyers who work in family and employment law.”

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Both organizations, and most that coordinate volunteer lawyers, offer in-person training in specialized areas of law as well as printed materials. Staff tailor work to direct volunteer skills where they’re needed, and many organizations offer malpractice insurance.

The ProJusticeMN.org website aggregates volunteer opportunities for many of the state's legal services organizations and offers a case placement tool, opportunities to quickly offer legal advice online, and a guide for pro bono opportunities, among other services. Read the full article.

 

Homeless Artist Wins State Fair Competition with Help of SMRLS Attorney and Blue Ribbon Artist

Being homeless did not stop St. Paul artist Ricardo Flores from creating his first piece of “crop art,” and entering it in the State Fair competition. To top it all off, he won a blue ribbon. 

It undoubtedly helped that Laura Melnick, senior attorney with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, and a volunteer at Saint Paul’s Listening House, spotted Flores’s creativity and encouraged him. Melnick, a five-time State Fair “best of show” ribbon holder for crop art, showed Flores her technique.  As a legal aid attorney, volunteer, and artist, Melnick exemplifies commitment to low-income Minnesotans. Read the full story. #WeAreLegalAid