Innovations for Clients: It’s a Community Effort!

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November marks a season of reflection and gratitude. Here at State Support, we are incredibly grateful for the people who have supported and helped us with the launch of LOON, and the ongoing redesign of LawHelpMN.  

An important feature of the new LawHelpMN will be the “LawHelp Guide,” designed to help site visitors better pinpoint their legal issue and receive targeted fact sheets, resources and referrals by answering a series of branching questions. To create this innovative and responsive tool, we relied on expert legal review from Kara Rieke, Ann Cofell, Beth Goodell, Lars Markeson, Laura Wilson and Mark Iris. Their suggestions led to changes in how questions were structured to make the system both more accurate and easier to navigate.  

On October 1, staff from sixteen Minnesota legal services organizations began utilizing LOON (Legal Organizations Online Network) in their daily work. LOON enables legal services providers to make more accurate referrals through access to detailed, real-time data. LOON will also power the referral information that will be available to everyone on the new LawHelpMN.org, once launched. Our LOON ambassadors provided ongoing feedback as the platform was designed and implemented, participated in user testing, and communicated within their programs about LOON. They also spent many hours updating their organizations’ service listings to prepare for implementation, and are continuing to make adjustments and changes. We are incredibly grateful for your time, participation and enthusiasm.  

Earlier this fall, State Support worked with a consultant who conducted LawHelp Guide focus groups comprised of trusted intermediaries –  social workers, public librarians, and faith-based community members and leaders – in order to document their unique and important perspective as gateways to legal information and services for the communities they serve. In both Bemidji and St. Paul, we relied on a number of volunteers to guide participants through the site and document their experiences. Thank you to the following volunteers for their help: Josie Adkins, Debra Lawton, Madeline Buck, Pauline Afuso, Rebecca Hare, Sandy Nguyen, Anna Beadle, and Dr. Sue Ricker and her Social Work Research Methods course students from Bemidji State University. And thank you to the focus group participants, who took time out of their busy days to discuss and test the LawHelp Guide.

Because improved navigability and a more user-friendly experience are important goals of the website redesign, State Support’s website development vendor recently conducted “usability testing," a form of user testing that involves watching a user attempt to perform a series of defined tasks on the site. By observing users’ interactions with the site, we are better able to make improvements that address their needs.  Our user testers, including program staff from the HCBA and Greater Twin Cities United Way, provided time and critical feedback for which we are grateful. We are also thankful for the programs and individuals who helped us reach out to recruit users from the public, including Volunteer Lawyers Network, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, the Dakota and Ramsey County Law Libraries, the Minnesota State Law Library, and other partners who posted flyers and connected us with user testers.

Our steering committee is guiding implementation of the LawHelpMN rebuild project by asking questions and providing suggestions through regular meetings. Thank you to Luci Russell, Lisa Cohen, Bridget Gernander, Tom Walsh, Claire Comstock-Gay, Luce Guillén-Givins and Anne Hoefgen.

In addition, the advisory committee established by the Minnesota Supreme Court as the governance structure for the LawHelp Guide, provides vital support through its efforts to foster partnerships that ensure the stability of the project, as well as to establish evaluation criteria, data privacy and other important policies, and by securing funding to support the long-term success of the project in delivering effective civil legal assistance. Many thanks to the chair of the advisory committee, Jordan Martell, and its members, including Hon. Lucinda Jesson, Donna Gies, Olivia Jefferson, Melissa Kantola, Steven Marchese, Larry McDonough, Sharon Press, Liz Reppe, Drew Schaffer, Kelly Tautges, and Tom Walsh.

And finally, thank you also to those who have assisted State Support in the LawHelpMN redesign process and the creation of LOON whose names we may have missed.  This really has been a community-wide effort, and we are grateful to all those involved.

CMLS Attorney to be Honored at MJF’s Annual Awards Celebration November 7

 Elizabeth F. Sauer

Elizabeth F. Sauer

This Wednesday, November 7, marks Minnesota Justice Foundation’s Annual Awards Celebration. Every year since 1991, MJF has honored the work of public interest attorneys, private pro bono attorneys, advocates, and law students whose commitment to service shines as a beacon of hope and embodies the very best of our profession.

This year, MJF’s award for Outstanding Service by a Direct Legal Services provider will go to Elizabeth F. Sauer, supervising attorney at Central Minnesota Regional Legal Services (CMLS).

Sauer has been the housing supervising attorney at CMLS since May 2017, with over seven years of prior service as a staff attorney. While she focuses on housing law, her caseload also includes family law cases, predominantly Orders for Protection. Her advocacy skills and legal knowledge exceed expectations for her seniority at CMLS, and she handles hundreds of housing cases on an annual basis. Countless tenants in Hennepin and Anoka counties have avoided homelessness because of Sauer’s outstanding advocacy.

Sauer has become an expert in subsidized housing law, and CMLS attorneys who have cases involving vouchers, as well as attorneys from other legal aid programs, regularly consult with her on their own cases. She mentors CMLS attorneys in all the program’s offices, and provides counsel to other attorneys in Minnesota, thereby improving advocacy for clients statewide.

Sauer has represented over a thousand clients during her career, and through her mentoring of others, has impacted hundreds more cases. She is always on the look-out for new ways to apply the law to ensure that clients remain housed, and that their housing is in good repair.  Her work recognizes the essential role that housing plays in a client’s success in all areas of life. 

MJF’s 2018 award winners also include Timothy McLarnan of McLarnan & Skatvold – Moorhead, recipient of the Private Practice Award; Imani Jaafar of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, recipient of the Advocate Award; and law students Royzetta Evans of Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Dr. Susan Craig, M. D. of the University of Minnesota Law School, and Jonathan Snyder of the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

There’s still time to get a ticket to the Annual Awards Celebration. Click here for more information and to reserve your ticket.

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid Helps Ensure Immigrants’ Rights

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Starting this month, immigrant community members will be reminded of their rights in all Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) squad cars. Thanks to the hard work and effective advocacy of attorneys at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, printed placards explaining an immigrant’s right to remain silent about their place of birth, and immigration status, along with other applicable rights, have been placed on the back seat of MPD squads in both English and Spanish. Staff attorneys Alison Olson Cox and Laura Wilson worked closely with the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office on the placard language. Cox was also a strong advocate for the city to take ownership of the placard and the recitation of immigrant rights. 

Read more about the placards in the Star Tribune.

Minnesota Celebrates National Pro Bono Week

October 21 – 27, 2018, marks National Pro Bono Week —the American Bar Association’s annual celebration in recognition of the efforts of current pro bono volunteers, and its hopes for increased support and collaboration. Pro bono plays a vital role in closing the justice gap by helping to increase the number of low-income individuals who can get legal advice at crucial moments.

Locally, pro bono “hubs” are being hosted by several corporate legal offices where volunteer attorneys will gather to answer questions on the Minnesota Legal Advice Online (MLAO) platform. MLAO’s web-based format helps eliminate the geographic and time barriers often faced when seeking legal assistance. Clients who live in remote areas, lack reliable transportation, or work night shifts can access legal clinic-style services that would otherwise be unavailable. Lawyers can respond to questions from clients anywhere in Minnesota, from wherever the lawyer is located.

On October 24th, join the Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) for its Pro Bono Week Happy Hour at Lakes and Legends Brewing Co. in Minneapolis. The event will celebrate the volunteers, donors and staff that make pro bono happen in Minnesota. Visit the ProJusticeMN calendar for more information and other happenings during Pro Bono Week.