Innovations for Clients: Online Triage System on the New LawHelpMN.org

By Betsy Parrell, Supervising Attorney

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For this month’s post in State Support’s series highlighting what to expect from the upcoming LawHelpMN.org redesign, the focus is on a much-anticipated online triage system. In case you missed our earlier posts, the first post gave an overview of the plans for the redesign, and the second post took a deeper dive into an exciting new aspect of the project: a centralized referral portal.   

The site’s “triage system” navigation will allow a person seeking civil legal resources to respond to a series of simple questions that are designed to guide that individual to the most relevant legal informational materials and referrals. This type of system has been successfully implemented by similar legal aid websites in other states, including Michigan and Connecticut

One reason for creating the triage system is that people looking for legal resources are often unsure how to categorize their legal problem, especially to the degree of specificity that would connect them to the right legal information. To narrow and refine the legal issue, the triage system starts with a set of branching questions for users to click through. This process helps direct the person to a tailored set of the most relevant self-help materials without the person having to click around the website. These targeted results will prioritize State Support’s Education for Justice fact sheets as the first resource displayed, and cleanly display other materials such as videos, booklets, and guided form tools. If an individual using the website is only looking for self-help materials, the process will stop there.   

If someone is looking for legal help, the next step in the triage process is to be “matched” with appropriate legal referrals by responding to an additional set of questions. This subsequent set of questions will address the individual’s potential eligibility for services such as location, income, and age, and whether the user is a person with a disability or a veteran. These questions will also incorporate several “soft factors” intended to help guide individuals toward the level and type of service that might work best for them. The system will then “match” an individual with the most appropriate legal referrals.   

For those who may be eligible for legal aid services, this “matching” function of the triage system will depend heavily on the centralized referral portal described in our last blog post. Legal aid organizations across the state will maintain detailed eligibility criteria and case acceptance guidelines, as well as legal clinic information, in the password-protected referral portal. The triage system will in turn draw data from that portal to match the user to services based on the accurate, real-time information being kept up-to-date by the programs in the portal. In this way, the triage system is being designed to provide potential clients with referrals only to services for which they are likely to be eligible. By reducing staff time spent with potential clients who aren’t eligible for that program’s services and reducing potential clients’ time calling around to offices that can’t help, the system endeavors to increase the accuracy and quality of referrals while maximizing available resources.  

Depending on the specific legal issue and the individual’s circumstances, referrals could include: 

  • clinics and other opportunities for legal information, advice, and brief service;  
  • legal aid programs that may be able to offer full representation;
  • alternative dispute resolution services such as mediation; and
  • private attorney referral services, including reduced fee programs and unbundled or limited scope options.   

Those already familiar with LawHelpMN.org, such as legal aid staff and others in the justice community, will still be able to access materials and referral information by searching the self-help library and organization directory. The triage system will function as an additional tool to help a person in need connect fluidly to the most on-point civil legal resources.   

Statewide Low Fee Family Law Project Now Accepting Referrals

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Last fall, the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) and the Hennepin County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service (HCBA LRIS) began a collaboration to expand the existing HCBA LRIS Low Fee Family Law Project to include service throughout Minnesota. Both organizations have recruited attorneys from across the state to participate and continue to encourage participation from attorneys interested in serving modest-means clients. Potential clients are those who exceed legal aid income guidelines and are not eligible for pro bono legal services, yet cannot afford the services of a private attorney.

Because of the great initial response, HCBA LRIS is now able to handle referrals for eligible clients from legal aid programs. Programs may direct clients to contact HCBA LRIS at 612-752-6666 and find more information on the LRIS website

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LRIS staff members screen clients by phone for initial financial eligibility. In order to qualify for services, potential clients must be currently employed, or on Social Security, and have an income source that falls between 125-250% of the federal poverty guidelines. Clients pay a billable rate of $55 per hour. There is a required retainer of $500, and a $30 administrative fee paid by the client.

Why participate as a provider?

Interested attorneys can build their practices through the project or expand their practice to include alternative fee arrangements. Attorneys are particularly needed in the northeast and northwest areas of greater Minnesota. Attorneys can receive new business in the following areas: separation or divorce, child custody and parenting time, paternity and child support, domestic abuse and Orders for Protection, and post decree issues.

Specifically, the project seeks to expand the number of attorneys providing unbundled (or limited scope) legal services. Numerous resources exist to help attorneys build unbundled practice into their service mix. For more information, including sample billing and retainer forms, see the MSBA website at www.mnbar.org/unbundled. Attorneys can contact Dana Rindahl at dana@hcba.org or call 612-752-6627 for additional information about how to apply.

SMRLS Attorney Named Rock County's “2018 Face of Hope” by the Southwest Crisis Center

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Meghan Maes, supervising attorney with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services - Mankato, has been named Rock County's 2018 Face of Hope by the Southwest Crisis Center (SCC) of Worthington.  

SCC works with people experiencing domestic and sexual violence in Rock, Cottonwood, Jackson, Pipestone and Nobles Counties, and Maes is being honored for her impactful work in helping to support survivors and victims of domestic and/or sexual violence, as well as her dedication to raising awareness of domestic and sexual violence through collaboration, volunteerism, and education.

Maes is a 2011 graduate of Hamline University School of Law, and received her undergraduate degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato. At SMRLS, she practices exclusively in the areas of family law and obtaining civil protective orders on behalf of survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking. 

“I am privileged to work with survivors. I am drawn to represent survivors because I want to provide a safe space for survivors to explore their legal options. I believe access to the justice system and resources can help survivors put themselves in the best position to make decisions about their safety and the safety of their family. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with survivors and am constantly in awe of their courage,” Maes said. 

She will receive her award at SCC’s Faces of Hope Banquet on April 21st in Pipestone. The banquet brings community members together to increase awareness of domestic and sexual violence and trafficking through supporting the work of the Southwest Crisis Center.