Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services Releases Racial Justice Report to Community

The Racial Justice Committee of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) is proud to announce the release of its 2016 Racial Justice Committee Report to the community.

The report has three primary purposes:

  • Create awareness of how SMRLS is involved within the community;
  • Create awareness of the programs that SMRLS offers; and
  • Create awareness of the services that are available within the community.

The Racial Justice Committee serves to welcome all clients, encourages and supports a diverse staff, and advocates effectively to eliminate barriers for persons of color and to ensure their equal access to and fair treatment by SMRLS and the legal system. Download a copy of the Report.

Minnesota Legal Services Coalition Chosen as Host for National ATJ Tech Fellows Program


Legal Services State Support, a project of the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, has been chosen as a host for the newly launched ATJ Tech Fellows program. Miguel Willis and a group of Seattle University law students created the summer fellowship program as a way to provide law students around the country with a unique opportunity to work on a range of innovative projects and initiatives aimed to improve the delivery of legal services for low-income Americans. They wanted to equip the next set of leaders with the tools and skills to leverage technology and innovation in addressing our nation’s widening access to justice gap.

In Minnesota, State Support will host a full-time, 10-week fellow to be part of its team. The Fellow's duties will be determined in part by the applicant's areas of interest and relevant skills, and will likely include work on State Support's document assembly interviews using A2J/HotDocs and analyzing and summarizing user data from these interviews. Learn more about the opportunity and how to apply here. Applications close February 15, 2017 at 7:00 pm CST.

State Support Staff to Present at Legal Services Corporation's TIG Conference

On Thursday January 12th, State Support's supervising attorney Mary Kaczorek and Legal/Technology Project Manager Jennifer Singleton will join two national colleagues to present "Using Your Data to Improve Your Projects" at LSC's 2017 Technology Initiative Grants Conference (TIG). The workshop will explore how tools like Google Analytics, Optimizely, and a pilot data warehousing tool through LawHelp Interactive can be used to improve online resources. Examples will be provided from the website world, as well as for online form projects.

This presentation will be streamed via Facebook Live at 2:45 p.m. CT on Thursday, January 12. To participate live, visit LSC’s Facebook page during the conference. Click here to learn more about Facebook Live. Find out more about "Using Data to Improve Your Projects" and other TIG sessions here. #LSCTIG

Bench & Bar: MMLA's Executive Director on Addressing Racial Disparities


In this month's edition of Bench & Bar of Minnesota, Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, explores the hard and necessary work of addressing racial disparities in an essay focused on how law organizations, including legal aid programs, might do a better job. Read more.

Online Legal Forms: Minnesota Uses Tech to Democratize Justice

In June, a New York Times essay on the rise of online legal forms brought encouraging validation to Minnesota's legal aid community. Again this month, a Times op-ed called attention to the innovation and growing prevalence of online legal forms, mentioning LawHelp Interactive as part of a "Year of Big Ideas in Social Change." The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition continues to be a national leader in using technology to increase access to civil legal justice, and currently hosts 21 online interviews on the LawHelp Interactive platform, including the recent addition of interactive family law forms for tribal courts.

On Minnesota’s work, Mary Kaczorek, supervising attorney at State Support said, “The free interactive legal forms on help maximize limited resources and expand legal aid’s reach to provide critical help to underserved populations across Minnesota.”

Attorney at Law Magazine Interviews MMLA's Cathy Haukedahl

Cathy Haukedahl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

Cathy Haukedahl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, was recently interviewed for a feature story in Attorney at Law magazine. Haukedahl shares experiences that have shaped her access to justice philosophy, the core values that influence her work with legal aid, and how the community can continue to progress in our pursuit of access to justice for the most vulnerable Minnesotans. Read the interview.

New, Improved OFP and HRO Interactive Interviews on

Legal Services State Support is pleased to announce that new, and improved, Order for Protection (OFP) and Harassment Restraining Order (HRO) interactive interviews are now available on These do-it-yourself guided interviews were created by Jenny Singleton, legal/technology projects manager at State Support, in collaboration with the MN Judicial Branch, and with support from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program.

The free interactive interviews take users step-by-step through all the information they will need to submit to the court in order to request an OFP or HRO.  The interview then compiles the user’s submitted information and creates the forms the user will need to file with the court. Access the OFP interview, the HRO interview, and other interactive interviews and forms here.

Anishinabe Legal Services Announces New Interactive Forms for Tribal Court


Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS) is excited to announce new interactive family law court forms for White Earth and Leech Lake Tribal Courts. The forms are available online through and were created with funding from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program. These free, interactive tribal court forms, available through LawHelp Interactive, include custody and parenting time petitions and answers, in forma pauperis, dissolution petition and answer, summons, petition for visitation, orders for protection, motion to modify child support, and more.

The new interactive forms use guided "interviews" which take users step-by-step through all the information they will need to submit to the tribal court, and include video instructions and checklists for individual use. The interview then compiles the user’s information to create the forms they will need to file with the tribal court.

Cody Nelson, ALS project designer, said, "Providing these automated forms and document assembly services for community members with so few pro bono legal assistance options is a tremendous opportunity to increase access to justice throughout the Leech Lake and White Earth Reservation communities.”

To access the new interviews, visit, or the ALS blog page.

Minnesota Awarded National “Justice for All” Strategic Planning Grant


by Lindsay Davis, Access to Justice Director - MSBA

Last week the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), with support from the Public Welfare Foundation, announced the recipients of their Justice for All project grants. Minnesota was one of only seven states to win the grant, out of 25 that had applied, and it was the only Midwest state to earn the honor. Other states include Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York. Each grant award is for up to $100,000 for strategic action planning grants and eligibility to apply for implementation funding next year.

This initiative stems from a fairly recent Resolution on Meaningful Access to Justice for All from the Conference of State Court Administrators and the Conference of Chief Justices. At the heart of the Resolution is an aspirational goal of 100% access to effective legal assistance for essential civil legal needs through a continuum of meaningful and appropriate services. This means that ideally everyone who needs help with an essential civil legal issue (preventing homelessness, income stability, etc.) receives some kind of meaningful help. The continuum concept means that different individuals and situations would warrant different kinds of legal help, which could vary from full service representation through a civil legal aid program, to online advice or help from a self-help center in a courthouse, to a limited scope representation from a private attorney. It does not mean “Civil Gideon” or a blanket right to counsel for all cases.

The strategic planning grants will allow each state to engage in planning and coordination with relevant stakeholders to develop state assessments and action plans, in hopes of promoting collaboration and innovation to meet the essential civil legal needs across the state.   After working through the planning grant, the next step will be applying for an implementation grant to bring a piece of the plan in to action.  In Minnesota, the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, the Minnesota State Bar Association, and the Minnesota Judicial Branch submitted a joint application.

Speaking on behalf of the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid said, “This is an excellent opportunity for Minnesota to increase access to justice across the state and showcase nationally the many innovations we already have in place.” 

The Public Welfare Foundation’s press release is available here

Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota Presents Justice Awards at 40th Anniversary Celebration

Mary Deutsch Schneider

Mary Deutsch Schneider

Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM) celebrated its 40th anniversary in Detroit Lakes last month, and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Natalie Hudson was on hand with remarks about LSNM's contributions to the community over the last four decades.

Highlights included the presentation of LSNM's highest honors: its Champion of Justice and Partners in Justice awards. The awards ceremony was presided over by LSNM’s executive director, Anne Hoefgen, and board president, Lawrence McDowell.

Mary Deutsch Schneider was honored with the Champion of Justice Award for her significant and enduring services to the poor and elderly of Northwest Minnesota. Schneider was the executive director of LSNM for 24 years before being elected to the North Dakota Legislature in 2014. Before her time at LSNM, she was an attorney at Legal Services of North Dakota.

“Mary has taught and inspired many of us, regionally and nationally, to fight for justice for those that cannot fight for themselves. She has a legacy in civil legal aid that will last for decades,” said Hoefgen.

Recognized with Partner in Justice Awards for their skillful and dedicated service to disadvantaged and elderly Minnesotans were:

  • Ron Elwood, Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP)
  • Robert Enger, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM)
  • Mary Shequen Smith, Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS)
  • Rebecca Swenson, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM)
Ron Elwood, LSAP

Ron Elwood, LSAP

Robert Enger, LSNM

Robert Enger, LSNM

Mary Shequen Smith, ALS

Mary Shequen Smith, ALS

Rebecca Swenson, LSNM

Rebecca Swenson, LSNM

“Each of our Partners in Justice provide advocacy to the most vulnerable in our communities. They serve these populations with dignity and respect. The impact of their collective work is immeasurable,” Hoefgen said.

LSNM is a non-profit organization that provides legal services without charge to low-income or elderly in 22 northwestern Minnesota counties. The organization was founded by local attorneys that recognized the need for civil legal aid for the poor. In 2016, LSNM will serve over 3,000 low-income clients.

State Support and LSNM Staff to Receive Minnesota Justice Foundation Outstanding Service Awards

Ann Conroy, Legal Services State Support

Ann Conroy, Legal Services State Support

Among the legal professionals to be honored at the Minnesota Justice Foundation’s (MJF) Annual Awards Celebration are Ann Conroy, office manager/training coordinator with Legal Services State Support, and Robert Enger, supervising attorney with Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota.

Both Conroy and Enger bring countless hours of exemplary service to low-income clients in their work with legal aid. Along with fellow award recipients, they will receive commendation from MJF on Wednesday, November 16, at International Market Square in Minneapolis beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Ann Conroy will receive the Advocate Award for her demonstrated commitment to expanding services to low-income and disadvantaged clients through her unique and multi-faceted role at State Support over the past 18 years. As office manager and training coordinator, Ann supports both the statewide legal aid community, and the public who turn to State Support for civil legal referrals and information.

Robert Enger will receive the Direct Legal Service Award for his demonstrated leadership, and zealous and skilled provision of legal representation to low-income and disadvantaged clients. In his 21 years of work at Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Bob has broken down barriers for those struggling to attain economic equality, justice in law and life, and to meet basic daily needs. To accomplish this beyond the scope of his legal services work, he has worked with his neighbors in community organizations, with local, state, and national bar associations, and in international efforts – to help individuals and groups fighting the constraints and effects of poverty.

Robert Enger, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota

Robert Enger, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota

The event’s keynote speaker will be Marianne Short, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of UnitedHealth Group. Ms. Short’s address, “Building Pro Bono as a Core Competency,” will be introduced by Vice President Walter Mondale.

Reservations for MJF's Annual Awards Celebration may be made by calling 612.625.1584 or by sending an e-mail to

Minnesota Joins National Celebrate Pro Bono Week

The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service chose to launch Pro Bono Week because of the increasing need for pro bono services during these harsh economic times and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this demand. The National Pro Bono Celebration can be an effective strategic tool for enhancing and expanding local efforts to increase access to justice for all.

Here in Minnesota, Pro Bono Week provides an opportunity for the legal profession and the larger community to focus on the important service provided by pro bono lawyers. Throughout the week, legal aid providers schedule opportunities to serve clients, train attorneys, and recognize service. On Wednesday, October 26 (12 p.m.) at the Minnesota CLE Center in Minneapolis, the Minnesota State Bar Association will host its annual Pro Bono CLE, the signature statewide event for the week. This year’s topic is “The Criminalization of Poverty,” featuring a keynote by Nusrat Choudhury from the ACLU Racial Justice Project in New York, as well as a panel of local legal and community experts. Registration information for this event, as well as a full schedule of events around Minnesota for the week, are available at

"We are bound by a responsibility to use our unique skills and training - not just to advance cases, but to serve a cause; and to help our nation fulfill its founding promise of equal justice under law...The obligation of pro bono service must become a part of the DNA of both the legal profession and of every lawyer."
- Attorney General Eric Holder

Read Attorney General Eric Holder's address to participants at the National Pro Bono Summit on October 24, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Landmark Supreme Court Decision on Concept of Legal Occupancy

Mary Cocchiarella saw an advertisement for a rental home, and after looking at the apartment, agreed to rent it.  She paid the landlord $2,400 to cover first month’s rent and a security deposit.  When she went to move into her home, the landlord denied her access and made excuses that it wasn’t ready.  He continued to deny her access for a period of days.  With nowhere to live, she sought relief in court for the landlord’s unlawful exclusion of her from her new home.  With Legal Aid’s help, she brought separate claims for possession and statutory penalties.  The trial court denied her request for relief and dismissed both of Ms. Cocchiarella’s claims, finding that – because she had not yet moved in – she was not “occupying” the rental home and thus was not a “residential tenant” as defined in landlord-tenant statutes.

Legal Aid helped Ms. Cocchiarella appeal the decision.  The Court of Appeals reversed part of the trial court’s judgment, finding that Ms. Cocchiarella was entitled to pursue her claims for statutory penalties regardless of whether she physically occupied the rental home.  But the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s judgment that Ms. Cocchiarella could not seek possession of her home for this reason. 

Legal Aid helped Ms. Cocchiarella seek relief on this important issue in the Supreme Court of Minnesota.  The Supreme Court took the case.  After reviewing arguments presented by Legal Aid and landlord/tenant interest groups in briefs, the Supreme Court of Minnesota ruled in Ms. Cocchiarella’s favor.  The Supreme Court held that “occupying” a rental home within the meaning of landlord-tenant law includes the legal right of possession, even in the absence of physical occupancy.  Because Ms. Cocchiarella presented evidence of a lease, with payment of rent and a security deposit, she had pleaded a case for possession under that lease.  Following this landmark decision on the concept of legal occupancy, the case is headed back to the trial court for Ms. Cocchiarella to put forth her evidence in support of her claims for possession and statutory penalties. Read the decision. Contact: Gary Van Winkle,

MMLA Attorney Named "Up & Coming" by Minnesota Lawyer

Every year Minnesota Lawyer magazine recognizes a group of attorneys within their first 10 years of practice who have already distinguished themselves by their achievements. Among them is Rebecca Scholtz, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA).

“I was interested in immigration issues even before law school,” recalled Scholtz, who also worked with migrant children in the Peace Corps. “This was my dream job. I’m lucky in that I get to do both direct representation and broader work.”

Scholtz and her fellow awardees were honored at a Sept. 8th luncheon at the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis. Read more about her at Minnesota Lawyer.

Senior Legal Line: Tips from LASNEM's Senior Citizens’ Law Project

Newspapers, service providers, and readers in northeastern Minnesota are familiar with a longstanding tradition: question and answer "tips" written by the three-person staff of the Senior Citizens’ Law Project at Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM). These popular Q & A informational articles are also available to seniors across the state via Dubbed the Senior Legal Line, the impetus for the articles was to get legal information to as many people as possible in hopes of preventing common legal problems faced by seniors.

Managing attorney Kristin L. Parendo notes that, "it's a great way to distill tips about common legal problems/questions that we see to the general public.  The hope is that readers can get an idea about what they can do to help themselves prevent problems, or at least know the high points of a topic so they can tell if this is something they should find out more about."

"Sometimes we write the Q & A to bring attention to a new law, or about topics that aren’t talked about much, such as our article about sex in the nursing home. We get people that write to us with questions and become clients." Visit for a full listing of Senior Legal Line articles.

Senior Citizens’ Law Project (pictured from left to right):  Courtney Kile, paralegal; Robin Raplinger, staff attorney; Kristin Parendo, managing attorney

Senior Citizens’ Law Project (pictured from left to right):  Courtney Kile, paralegal; Robin Raplinger, staff attorney; Kristin Parendo, managing attorney