Legal Services Advocacy Project Works for Fairness at the Legislature

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Each year during the legislative session, the three staff attorneys comprising the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP) meet with Minnesota legislators, participate in committees and work diligently to measure the effects of statutes and administrative laws on the most vulnerable citizens. Their goal is to educate legislators and ensure the law works fairly for all.

In “Legal Services Advocacy Project: A Voice at the Legislature,” LSAP’s unique lobbying efforts are explained and examined with an eye on justice-seeking that is collaborative and draws on the expertise of legal aid colleagues.

“We try to leverage work in coalitions,” says LSAP’s Jessica Webster. “Since there are only three of us, we depend on partnerships to extend our reach.” Read more at Attorney at Law Magazine Minnesota.

Legal Aid Intake Staff: The Front Line

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A recent edition of Attorney at Law Magazine features the people comprising Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s first point of contact for those seeking legal help — the intake staff. The article “On the Front Line at Legal Aid,” by Leykn Schmatz, shines a light on the team that fields thousands of calls and conducts over 1200 interviews each month.

The fast-paced work of these perceptive and efficient interviewers requires a comprehensive knowledge of eligibility criteria and common legal issues across the poverty law continuum, as well as a strong sense of justice and empathy.

“We listen to the caller’s story and translate their personal crisis into a legal problem,” says Intake Supervisor Luci Russell. “If a client calls and says their landlord is a terrible person, that’s not a legal problem. If they have black mold and the heat doesn’t work, then we have a case.” Read more at Attorney at Law Magazine Minnesota.

A New Era Begins: The LawHelpMN Guide Offers Customized Legal Resources and Referrals

The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, the staff at Legal Services State Support and our website developer, Electric Citizen, are pleased to announce the official launch of the newly redesigned and rebuilt LawHelpMN.org on the Drupal open source, content management platform. Users of LawHelpMN.org will find robustly improved features such as the Self Help Library – a thoughtful compendium of fact sheets, booklets, do-it-yourself forms and other resources – as well as the Provider and Clinics Directory – now powered by a database of referral information updated in real-time.

The defining feature of the new site is its innovative navigational assistance tool: the LawHelpMN Guide (the Guide). Designed to deliver a customized set of self-help resources and referrals that address an individual’s specific legal concern or problem, the Guide generates curated results in response to an individual’s answers to a series of simple questions.  These “guided” questions are intended to narrow a person’s legal topic and, if needed, assess their potential eligibility for services based on a variety of factors including location and income. The LawHelpMN Guide is intuitive and easy to use by either the person seeking information or an attorney, advocate, or anyone assisting them.

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Since the launch of the original LawHelpMN.org over a decade ago, the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition and its State Support office have worked to improve the site’s usefulness and responsiveness as part of our access to justice commitment. The newly redesigned and rebuilt site takes that commitment further than ever before with the adoption of a platform customized to meet a continuum of legal needs and challenges across Minnesota.

“Today’s launch of a re-imagined LawHelpMN.org is a great leap forward in the collaborative and inventive efforts of the civil legal aid, pro bono, and judicial communities to provide continued access to justice in an increasingly accessible and straightforward manner,” Drew Schaffer, Executive Director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid said. “Already, over 1,000 Minnesotans a day use LawHelpMN.org to understand and to vindicate their most basic of civil rights.  It is our hope that the new and improved site will enable a growing number of Minnesotans to find the legal help and information they need to enforce their rights and to stabilize their lives.”

Housing Court Project Study Shows How Legal Help Can Prevent Homelessness

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The cover story in this month’s Bench and Bar of Minnesota is proof positive that the Housing Court Project in Hennepin County is preventing homelessness and family instability on a regular basis. The article, authored by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Luke Grundman, along with project colleagues Muria Kruger of Volunteer Lawyers Network and Tom Tinkham former Dorsey and Whitney trial partner, describes the project and a recent study examining its effectiveness.

For the past 18 years, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) and Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) have maintained a legal clinic at the Hennepin County Courthouse offering eviction advice and full representation, as well as help negotiating settlements and preparing expungement petitions. Recently, the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and the Pohlad Family Foundation have provided significant financial support to bolster this vital court project. The clinic is staffed by 11 attorneys from MMLA, and in 2017 alone, nearly 150 volunteer attorneys from VLN provided 1,400 hours of legal service.

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The study on the project’s impact compared results for tenants who were unrepresented to those who received limited advice or help and then to those who received full representation. Eleven random court calendar days were selected for review. Results demonstrated that those represented in eviction proceedings have better outcomes and those fully represented have even more positive outcomes. Read more in Bench and Bar of Minnesota.