State Support Announces "In the Know with Legal Aid" Podcast Series

Legal Services State Support is pleased to announce the first episode in its new podcast series "In the Know with Legal Aid." Legal projects manager Emily Good suggested the approach as another innovative way to provide learning opportunities and resources to the legal aid community.

Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

The podcast format is a popular, informal way to present topical content that's shorter - typically 20 - 30 minutes - and can be listened to conveniently anytime. With the new series, State Support hopes to facilitate discussions on emerging civil legal issues that might get lost in a longer CLE, or are more time sensitive, and to share the expertise and insight of legal aid staff members statewide. For those interested in being interviewed for a podcast, the casual prerecorded format allows greater flexibility, minus the stress of a live presentation.

To suggest a podcast topic, or presenter, contact Emily Good at Themes can include practice issues and considerations, legal challenges for which a full training might not be needed, and important rules updates or regulatory changes that are not major overhauls. The podcast can also include links and notes related to the discussion that will appear along with the recording.

In the first episode, staff attorney Meghan Maes of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) explains how one parent can go about getting a passport for a child when the other parent either isn’t available or isn’t cooperative. Emily and Meghan talk about Minnesota statutes, State department forms, and declaratory judgments.

Listen here:  Podcast 1: Passports and the Single Parent and find future installments on State Support's site.

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.”

VLN new logo.jpg

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 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.


CMLS and MMLA Add Perspective to Prospect of Funding Cuts

Minnesota Lawyer recently reached out to Central Minnesota Legal Services (CMLS) and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) for a feature about community concern over the prospect of funding cuts to legal aid.

Commenting on the income disparities legal aid lawyers face, as well as the challenges in retention for programs, Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of MMLA, said: “If we can make some improvement where we are a little more competitive, we would have more retention. That would benefit our clients and most of our folks would be happy to stay because they love the work they do.” The hope is that a small boost in state funding would make this possible.

At the same time, for programs like CMLS, the prospect of losing funding from the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC), could have a dramatic impact. Executive director Jean Lastine noted, "There wouldn’t be an immediate shutdown or anything but we’d probably lose half our lawyers." While concerned, she pointed out it is not the first funding crisis legal aid programs have faced.  Read the full article.

Tribal Court Appellate Case Makes Lasting Impact on Housing Evictions


During the past year, Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS) has utilized tribal funding sources to undertake a major housing case on behalf of low-income tenants living in units managed by the White Earth Housing Authority.

The local Indian Housing Authority had a practice of boarding up housing units immediately upon certain suspected lease violations — a violation of the due process rights of many eviction defendants.  In this eviction case,  ALS lost the trial court decision, but staff attorney Steve Campbell immediately appealed. The Court decided to allow the client to occupy her unit until a decision on the appeal was made. This enabled the client, a single pregnant mother, to live in her home for several months until the Court of Appeals ultimately decided that the Housing Authority was required to file an action in Court to board up her unit. They also ruled that the client had not willingly violated the terms of her lease.  The Court ordered the client’s lease to be renewed, and her eviction overturned.  By this decision, several additional pending eviction cases were settled with favorable outcomes for tenants.  As a result, the Housing Authority is also reviewing their administrative policies.

St. Thomas Law School Dean Stresses Importance of Legal Aid Funding

Robert K. Vischer, dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School, and member of the Legal Services Corporation's leaders council, was featured in this week's op-ed section of the Star Tribune. Vischer makes a compelling case for the retention of the primary funding agency for civil legal aid by outlining LSC's measurable and meaningful contributions to individual self-reliance and empowerment, the nation's growing justice gap, and the agency's significant economic benefits for state and local governments. Read the full opinion.


Legal Services For Immigrants Strengthened by Landmark Gift to U of M Law School

On February 6th, the University of Minnesota Law School announced a transformational $25 million gift from the Robina Foundation. The grant—the single largest philanthropic gift in the Law School’s history—will fund the newly named James H. Binger Center for New Americans, establish a James H. Binger Professorship in Clinical Law, and provide Law School student scholarship support.

The gift will provide permanent financial support to the University of Minnesota Law School for the ongoing operations of the James H. Binger Center for New Americans. The Center brings about transformative change by creating a national model for the provision of comprehensive and cohesive legal services for immigrant communities through a variety of means, including improving federal immigration law and policy through impact litigation; protecting detainee rights and improving access to legal representation for refugees and immigrants; educating noncitizens about their legal rights; creating dynamic and comprehensive immigration clinics for students; and collaborating with others on immigration issues. During its four-year pilot program—supported by the Robina Foundation—the Center won a landmark case at the U.S. Supreme Court; won political asylum for clients from around the world; and won release for detained immigrants in Minnesota.

The Center has three law firm partners—Dorsey and Whitney, Faegre Baker Daniels, and Robins Kaplan—and three nonprofit partners—the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and The Advocates for Human Rights.

Founding partners Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid have worked with the Center for the past three years with a specific emphasis on the Center’s detainee rights work. Dean Garry W. Jenkins said, “The Binger Center will leverage a unique collaboration among our clinics, prominent law firms, and respected nonprofit organizations, enabling our exceptional faculty and students to continue to work on landmark immigration reform cases for generations to come.” Read more in the Star Tribune.

Study Shows How Legal Aid Secures Millions of Dollars for Minnesota Annually

The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition has released a report to inform policy makers and other stakeholders about the economic benefits of civil legal aid in Minnesota. This study, based on 2014 data, shows that legal aid programs have generated nearly $112 million in revenue. This amount is comprised of both retained and new federal benefits, protected and new non-governmental dollars, as well as avoided costs from domestic violence and homelessness.

In addition, legal aid staff attorneys spent approximately 350,000 hours on direct representation valued at $70.8 million in legal services provided to clients. In-kind revenue of pro bono representation represents nearly $33 million in donated legal time.

For every $1.00 spent on Legal Aid the return on investment is $3.94.

Legal aid provides direct service to all 87 Minnesota communities and has been a trusted provider of high-quality legal advocacy for low-income Minnesota for years. Legal aid focuses on resolving civil legal matters that directly affect the basic human needs for safety, shelter, and household sustenance.

The Legal Aid St. Cloud office, for example, closed more than 3,500 cases in 2015 on issues including consumer fraud, housing, immigration, and family law.

Saint Cloud attorney Brent Thompson and paralegal Heather Helmer worked with Andrea who had six children, ages five to fifteen, and was living in a battered women’s shelter in California after fleeing an abusive husband in Minnesota. Legal Aid told her they would take her case. Once home, a restraining order was put into place for her husband. Andrea enrolled at Bethel University, took two part-time jobs, and got her kids back in school. “Legal help at that crucial time can give people their freedom," Andrea reflects. “My life is as it should be because of the help I got from Legal Aid. There are other lives like mine out there, waiting to be changed.”

Read the full Economic Impact Report.

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services Releases Racial Justice Report to Community

The Racial Justice Committee of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) is proud to announce the release of its 2016 Racial Justice Committee Report to the community.

The report has three primary purposes:

  • Create awareness of how SMRLS is involved within the community;
  • Create awareness of the programs that SMRLS offers; and
  • Create awareness of the services that are available within the community.

The Racial Justice Committee serves to welcome all clients, encourages and supports a diverse staff, and advocates effectively to eliminate barriers for persons of color and to ensure their equal access to and fair treatment by SMRLS and the legal system. Download a copy of the Report.

Minnesota Legal Services Coalition Chosen as Host for National ATJ Tech Fellows Program


Legal Services State Support, a project of the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, has been chosen as a host for the newly launched ATJ Tech Fellows program. Miguel Willis and a group of Seattle University law students created the summer fellowship program as a way to provide law students around the country with a unique opportunity to work on a range of innovative projects and initiatives aimed to improve the delivery of legal services for low-income Americans. They wanted to equip the next set of leaders with the tools and skills to leverage technology and innovation in addressing our nation’s widening access to justice gap.

In Minnesota, State Support will host a full-time, 10-week fellow to be part of its team. The Fellow's duties will be determined in part by the applicant's areas of interest and relevant skills, and will likely include work on State Support's document assembly interviews using A2J/HotDocs and analyzing and summarizing user data from these interviews. Learn more about the opportunity and how to apply here. Applications close February 15, 2017 at 7:00 pm CST.

State Support Staff to Present at Legal Services Corporation's TIG Conference

On Thursday January 12th, State Support's supervising attorney Mary Kaczorek and Legal/Technology Project Manager Jennifer Singleton will join two national colleagues to present "Using Your Data to Improve Your Projects" at LSC's 2017 Technology Initiative Grants Conference (TIG). The workshop will explore how tools like Google Analytics, Optimizely, and a pilot data warehousing tool through LawHelp Interactive can be used to improve online resources. Examples will be provided from the website world, as well as for online form projects.

This presentation will be streamed via Facebook Live at 2:45 p.m. CT on Thursday, January 12. To participate live, visit LSC’s Facebook page during the conference. Click here to learn more about Facebook Live. Find out more about "Using Data to Improve Your Projects" and other TIG sessions here. #LSCTIG

Bench & Bar: MMLA's Executive Director on Addressing Racial Disparities


In this month's edition of Bench & Bar of Minnesota, Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, explores the hard and necessary work of addressing racial disparities in an essay focused on how law organizations, including legal aid programs, might do a better job. Read more.

Online Legal Forms: Minnesota Uses Tech to Democratize Justice

In June, a New York Times essay on the rise of online legal forms brought encouraging validation to Minnesota's legal aid community. Again this month, a Times op-ed called attention to the innovation and growing prevalence of online legal forms, mentioning LawHelp Interactive as part of a "Year of Big Ideas in Social Change." The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition continues to be a national leader in using technology to increase access to civil legal justice, and currently hosts 21 online interviews on the LawHelp Interactive platform, including the recent addition of interactive family law forms for tribal courts.

On Minnesota’s work, Mary Kaczorek, supervising attorney at State Support said, “The free interactive legal forms on help maximize limited resources and expand legal aid’s reach to provide critical help to underserved populations across Minnesota.”

Attorney at Law Magazine Interviews MMLA's Cathy Haukedahl

Cathy Haukedahl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

Cathy Haukedahl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, was recently interviewed for a feature story in Attorney at Law magazine. Haukedahl shares experiences that have shaped her access to justice philosophy, the core values that influence her work with legal aid, and how the community can continue to progress in our pursuit of access to justice for the most vulnerable Minnesotans. Read the interview.