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.    

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.

MN Unbundled Law Project: A New Era in Limited Scope Representation

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The Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA), with Hennepin and Ramsey County Bar Association partners, are pleased to announce the new Minnesota Unbundled Law Project. The project is now available for clients and referrals at www.MNunbundled.org. Also known as limited scope representation, “unbundled” legal services allow an attorney and a client to customize legal services according to the client’s needs and budget. Services could be limited to a certain issue in a case, legal advice, review of court documents, or coaching a client who will provide self-representation.

The benefits of unbundled representation extend to both clients and attorneys. By paying an attorney to do only parts of a case where legal expertise is needed, the client saves money on legal fees and attorneys can use their time more efficiently. Time and energy are maximized for both parties because the attorney can provide information about the legal process and the client’s specific issues, in addition to identifying potential problems or hidden complications earlier in the process.

Those looking for unbundled referrals can get started at the Project’s website, www.MNunbundled.org, and find more information about what types of services they may want to hire an attorney to perform, as well as what to consider when deciding if unbundled representation is right for them.

The MSBA’s pro bono development director, Steve Marchese, in noting the importance of the project, said: “The Minnesota Unbundled Law Project brings together the work of the state’s largest bar organizations to increase access to limited scope/unbundled legal services for all Minnesotans. It provides an easily accessible platform for clients interested in more affordable legal options to connect with the attorneys interested in assisting them. We look forward to studying the results of this pilot so we can expand service to more people and more areas of practice throughout the state.”

Attorneys interested in being a participating provider can contact Steve Marchese directly at smarchese@mnbar.org.

MMLA, ILCM, and Advocates Provide Representation to Hennepin County Residents Facing Deportation

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Hennepin County is now one of only a few regional jurisdictions to fund legal representation of its residents in deportation proceedings. This past summer a new legal defense fund was established by Hennepin County in cooperation with three nonprofit organizations. The grant and the participating organizations — Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) and the Advocates for Human Rights (Advocates) — aim to provide universal representation to immigration defendants regardless of the merits of their case. Preference is given to people who were transferred from the Hennepin County jail to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

Speaking to the Star Tribune, Peggy Russell, managing attorney with MMLA said, “Many immigrants who are placed in removal proceedings are lawful permanent residents who pay taxes and are at risk of extended detention and separation from their families.” She also noted studies emphasizing the rate of success for immigrants with legal representation in establishing a right to stay in the United States.

Read more at MPR News.