Coming Soon: The New Year Brings a New LawHelpMN.org

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The highly anticipated launch of the recently rebuilt LawHelpMN.org is just around the corner! In a short time, site visitors will find a clean modern look, a new guided tool for gathering curated legal resources and referrals and familiar and thoughtfully improved features such as the self-help library and the provider and clinic directory. Months of feedback, user testing and behind the scenes work from the staff at State Support and our website developer, Electric Citizen, will soon become a reality for frequent users of the site, as well as those discovering it for the first time.

Here’s a preview of key features from the soon-to-be launched site:

  • Navigational Assistance/Targeted Resources and Referrals: The LawHelpMN Guide
    The LawHelpMN Guide (the 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 within the Guide 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.

  • Password Protected Online Database: LOON (Legal Organizations Online Network)
    LOON was developed to house up-to-date information about legal services available across Minnesota.  Service listings in the database include information about case types and priorities, case acceptance guidelines, clinics, and eligibility criteria. LOON usage began late last year within the legal services community to enable legal services providers to make more accurate referrals amongst each other through password-protected access to detailed, real-time data. Once the rebuilt LawHelpMN.org site launches, LOON will also power the referral information available to site visitors using either the Guide or the providers and clinic directory.

  • Expanded Continuum of Services: Access to Justice for All Minnesotans
    Offering meaningful referrals along a continuum means including 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. Some recently developed or expanded services that will now be available as referrals on LawHelpMN.org include the Minnesota Unbundled Project, Community Mediation Minnesota, and the Low Fee Family Law Project.

The LawHelpMN.org redesign was conducted in partnership with Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, the Volunteer Lawyers Network, and the Minnesota Judicial Branch. The project is made possible through grant funds from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Innovation Grant Program, the Minnesota Legal Services Advisory Committee, the Minnesota Court Technology Fund, and the Minnesota Justice for All Project.

Here at State Support, it is our sincere hope that as the legal services community begins using the new LawHelpMN.org, you will share your feedback with us. Let us know what’s working, what you love, or if you find technical bugs or glitches, at statesupport@mnlegalservices.org or through the contact form on the new site.

LASNEM and U of M Medical School Partner on Rural Access to Justice Study

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Dr. Michele Statz, an anthropologist of law with the University of Minnesota Medical School - Duluth, is midway through a three-year study on rural access to justice across Northeastern Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin. This research is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Law and Social Science Program, and it includes extensive one-on-one interviews, surveys, and focus groups with legal professionals and low-income residents across the region.

One aspect of this research includes collaborating with the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM) and Wisconsin Judicare, Inc. in order to conduct community needs assessments on these organizations’ behalf. Research for the assessments entails carefully documenting the unique concerns and ideas that the diverse populations LASNEM serves identify. This process provides Dr. Statz and her research assistant, Jon Bredeson, granular data on complex needs that can be further mapped onto geography.

Research for the LASNEM community needs assessment is in progress, and it includes in depth conversations with area legal professionals and stakeholders, as well as telephonic surveys with self-identified low-income rural / Native individuals in northeastern Minnesota. For community members, the survey includes twenty-two identifiable problem areas and broadly examines how individuals understand their legal needs and how they access help, such as through legal aid. Anyone who participates in the survey will receive a $10 gift card.

In speaking directly with community members in the rural counties and on the reservations that comprise LASNEM’s service area, researchers are gathering valuable data and insights about gaps and barriers that powerfully impact individuals’ ability to access justice.

 “Dr. Statz and Mr. Bredeson are giving voice to those who have gone unheard,” says Dori Streit, Executive Director of LASNEM. “The community needs assessment will allow LASNEM to identify the challenges low-income individuals and communities face in Northeastern Minnesota, and in turn, will guide us to be more strategic in our advocacy.”

Once completed, LASNEM will use the resulting report to evaluate its services and how accurately they reflect the needs, concerns, and priorities of low-income residents. It is hoped that the study’s results will strengthen relationships in the region beyond LASNEM, spur expansion of legal aid services in Northeastern Minnesota, and provide additional resources to the legal professionals who serve these remote populations.

To learn more or to participate in this research, please visit www.northlandproject.org or email Michele Statz at mstatz@d.umn.edu.

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.