Central Minnesota Legal Services Rolls Out New Website Experience

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Central Minnesota Legal Services (CMLS), a provider of civil legal services to low-income persons in 21 counties in central Minnesota for more than 40 years, recently rolled out a new and improved website for its clients. The new site offers streamlined and easy to use navigation, along with the ability to apply for legal aid online. Visitors can find available legal clinics, the kinds of cases CMLS takes, and what to expect when making contact with legal aid for the first time. The website design team included Amanda Sauber, supervising legal assistant; Jessica Mastaller, volunteer attorney coordinator; and Terri Thorson, managing attorney.

"CMLS is excited to launch our new user friendly and mobile friendly website.  As the first stop for information for so many people is now the web, our redesigned website will help our clients, pro bono attorneys, and the public find information about CMLS more easily," said executive director, Jean Lastine. Visit CMLS at www.centralmnlegal.org.

SMRLS Clinic Honored with Inaugural Interfaith Progress Award

Jessie Nicholson, Executive Director - Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services

Jessie Nicholson, Executive Director - Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) and its new Power Up Legal Clinic partners, the Twin Cities Cardozo Society and Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, were the inaugural recipients of the Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul’s Interfaith Progress Award this past May. The Interfaith Progress Award recognizes organizations and programs whose work involves new, renewed, or expanded frontiers in interfaith cooperation, and addresses compelling community needs through interfaith partnership.

The Power Up Legal Clinic was started in 2016 when Morning Star’s Pastor Walker realized that many of his church members were approaching him with legal concerns. The clinic provides free, walk-in legal services to members of the broader community, as well as the church.

The mission of Interfaith Action is to “unite the people, resources, and voice of the faith community to build a more just, safe, and livable East Metro for all.”  Read more about the clinic's dates and hours.

Big Ideas and Improv Comedy Featured at 2017 Statewide Conference

The 2017 Legal Services Statewide Conference: Connecting With Our Community, will offer the great mix of camaraderie, meaningful CLE, and relaxation conference goers have come to expect, as well as some new twists. Chief among them, a one-of-a-kind interactive session led by The Theater of Public Policy (T2P2). Described by the Star Tribune as "CSPAN being swarmed by the cast of SNL," The Theater of Public Policy explores big ideas using improv comedy.  T2P2 improvisers use comedy to act out hard-to-digest concepts with the goal of helping us think more deeply, and in a fresh, engaging way about the issues we encounter daily and the policies impacting our work.

The conference will be held at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria, MN from Wednesday, October 25 to Friday, October 27, 2017.  Stay tuned here for more session and special guest details, a sneak peek at our full conference schedule, and the official launch of conference registration in early September.

Federal Fair Housing Case Brings Meaningful Outcome for a Family #WeAreLegalAid

Anne Robertson, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, splits her time between the Housing Discrimination Law Project and the Disability Law Center.  In a recent case, she championed the cause of a single mother who was subjected to egregious treatment by her landlord based on having minor children in her household (familial status).  Not only did the landlord enforce a lease provision stating that children were not allowed to play in the common areas or around the building – with a financial penalty – the landlord physically assaulted one of her children on two occasions.  With Robertson at her side, the client reached a substantial settlement, and influenced policy changes, including a provision that the landlord must report on compliance with familial status law for the next four years. Special thanks to Justin Perl for litigation support. #WeAreLegalAid

MDLC’s Anne Henry Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Anne Henry, longtime access to justice advocate and staff attorney with the Minnesota Disability Law Center, will retire this fall and her career-spanning contributions were recognized last month with a lifetime achievement award from the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MNCCD).

Henry was commended as a disability community champion, and her tireless commitment to the cause was celebrated. She commented on the impact of her work with MNCCD both professionally and personally, and encouraged other advocates to stay the course. "This meaningful recognition is definitely shared with all my colleagues, disability advocates, and clients. Positive changes for persons with disabilities are the result of conscientious efforts by the many committed people with whom I have been privileged to work during my tenure at the Disability Law Center," Henry said.

An editorial by MN-CCD Board Chairman Randall Bachman was published earlier this month. Read Henry’s courage has been an asset to the disability community on ACCESS Press.

Minnesota Disability Law Center Receives 2017 Public Policy Recognition Award

Pamela Hoopes, Legal Director

Pamela Hoopes, Legal Director

Arc Minnesota recognized the work of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) with its annual Public Policy Recognition award on May 25th. The award honors individuals or groups whose efforts in disability law and/or disability policy have benefited individuals with disabilities and their families. The Minnesota Disability Law Center has helped thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities achieve better lives. MDLC was celebrated for its advocacy and legal work – work that protects the rights and services of people with disabilities in Minnesota.

Arc Minnesota’s presentation lauding MDLC included its activities and successes over the past four decades, and Luther Granquist, former staff attorney; legal director Pamela Hoopes; and current staff attorneys Bud Rosenfield and Dan Stewart were all cited for their contributions to the organization’s work. Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s retiring executive director Cathy Haukedahl, and retiring attorneys Anne Henry and Patricia Siebert were also recognized for their distinguished service to the agency.

The Minnesota Disability Law Center is the designated protection and advocacy system for Minnesota and addresses the unique legal needs of Minnesotans with disabilities. The center provides free legal assistance to individuals with disabilities statewide on civil legal issues related to their disabilities. All individuals with disabilities are eligible to receive help, regardless of age or income level.

MMLA Succeeds in Asserting Racial Discrimination as Eviction Defense #WeAreLegalAid

Two Legal Aid clients faced termination of their tenancies and evictions from the same landlord. Both tenants have experienced long-term homelessness in the past.  Eviction would have doomed them to it again.

Joey Dobson, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), and the tenants’ case managers, suspected the landlord’s true motivations were illegal: he wanted to evict the two tenants because of their race—African American—and because one of them had reported his failure to treat the building for bed bugs.  Dobson had some circumstantial indicators of racism and retaliation, but little hard evidence.  She took a deposition of the landlord, who didn't make any overtly racist statements.  But the assumptions he made about his tenants were striking, and he lacked a good excuse for the different ways he treated another similarly-situated white tenant.

It was still a very tough case to prove in court.  Dobson was joined by supervising attorney Colleen Walbran, who recently joined MMLA. Walbran immediately plugged in her years of experience with housing discrimination, and the cases were tried back-to-back on the same day in favor of the clients. Managing attorney Luke Grundman said, “It’s the first time in recent memory that Legal Aid succeeded in asserting racial discrimination as a defense in an eviction case.”  Cheers for these undaunted lawyers! #WeAreLegalAid

Minnesota Legal Services Coalition Hosts "Connecting With Our Community" October 25 -27, 2017, Alexandria, MN

Legal Services State Support is pleased to announce that plans are underway for the 2017 Legal Services Statewide Conference: Connecting With Our Community.  The conference will be held at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria, MN from Wednesday, October 25 to Friday, October 27, 2017.  Conference participants can expect to learn more about innovative service delivery models in our community, how to better serve our diverse client populations, and how effective self-care translates into more sustainable and effective advocacy.

Zoua Vang, storyteller, strategist, and advocate, will officially kick off the conference with a special keynote presentation, “Our Community, Our Stories,” on Wednesday evening, October 25th.  Vang’s personal story inspires and profoundly illustrates why what we do matters. As a professional advocate, she will help us understand how to share and celebrate the work we do on behalf of clients every day.

On Thursday afternoon, conference attendees will experience a one-of-a-kind interactive session led by the Theater of Public Policy. Using improvisational comedy, we’ll think more deeply, and in a fresh, engaging way, about the issues we encounter daily and the policies impacting our work.

Stay tuned to State Support’s blog for more session and special guest details, a sneak peek at our full conference schedule, and the official launch of conference registration – slated for early September.

LSAP Supports New Federal School Lunch Law

Jessica Webster, staff attorney with the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP), recently spoke to Kare11 News about how school policies differ when kids run out of lunch money, and how a new federal law will require school districts nationwide to make their policies entirely clear to parents and the state. LSAP and Legal Aid, long-time advocates of prohibiting the denial of hot lunches to low-income children, released a 2014 report on Minnesota school lunch practices. Watch /read more from Kare11.
 

Legal Aid's Legacy of Wraparound Services for DV Victims

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In We Arm Them With Lawyers, Attorney at Law magazine generously provides space for a monthly article on Legal Aid’s work. In this issue, We Arm Them With Lawyers reveals Legal Aid’s longstanding commitment to Minnesota’s domestic violence victims.

Using an approach referred to as "wraparound services," Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid's domestic violence work includes everything from family law advice and orders for protection, to basic necessities such as food, security, housing, health care, consumer protection, and emergency benefits. More recently, MMLA has collaborated with shelters, medical clinics, and community organizations to make access to a legal services safer and easier.

In 2008, MMLA - St. Cloud joined in the formation of the now nationally recognized Stearns County Domestic Violence Partnership, which advises the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court (DVC). “Before this project, the violent offender had a right to a public defender but the victims had no lawyer they could talk to about anything,” says Legal Aid Deputy Director Ann Cofell. “The DVC gives them that lawyer. It gives them a voice in the system.”  Read more in Attorney at Law magazine.

Minnesota Legal Advice Online: Brand New Look and Easier to Use

A few months shy of its third anniversary, State Support's popular pro bono legal advice website has a brand new look, and greatly improved usability for clients and lawyers. Freshly redesigned, Minnesota Legal Advice Online (MLAO), funded by a grant from the Court Technology Fund, is fully mobile-responsive – a critical element with 30% or more of its users arriving on a tablet or smartphone.

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.

Starting on March 23rd – the first week the redesigned site went live – 50 new questions were posted by clients. Volunteer lawyers are needed to answer questions and help keep pace with the rate of client submissions. State Support's current volunteer lawyers are busy closing out questions from the old iteration of the site, but more lawyers are sought to make sure people who need advice are getting it.

Minnesota Legal Advice Online site is a great way to engage in pro bono work. Like a brief advice, walk-in, or phone-in clinic, volunteer lawyers provide limited scope representation. There is no ongoing client relationship, and the time commitment is easy to manage – login and respond to questions when you have time, for as long as you want. The web-based platform has the added benefit of allowing lawyers to read and research a question before responding, if necessary.

Questions cover all areas of civil law, and range from procedural matters such as “how do I present evidence in my case?” to more subject specific issues like “I have a power of attorney for my brother who is in jail; the landlord won’t let us get his belongings from the apartment, what can I do?”

As with other pro bono programs, lawyers can earn CLE credits for participating. For every 6 hours of time volunteered through MLAO, lawyers can get 1 credit, with a limit of 6 credits redeemable for reporting requirements in Minnesota. Pro bono hours on the site also count towards the NorthStar Lawyers program. The site has a function that allows lawyers to enter and track the hours they spend responding to questions.

To sign up, visit www.mnlegaladvice.org and select “Lawyer Sign-up” from the top menu bar. If you have further questions, contact Emily Good at egoodmnlegalservices.org. We would love to have you volunteer!

State Support Announces "In the Know with Legal Aid" Podcast Series

Legal Services State Support is pleased to announce the first episode in its new podcast series "In the Know with Legal Aid." Legal projects manager Emily Good suggested the approach as another innovative way to provide learning opportunities and resources to the legal aid community.

Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

The podcast format is a popular, informal way to present topical content that's shorter - typically 20 - 30 minutes - and can be listened to conveniently anytime. With the new series, State Support hopes to facilitate discussions on emerging civil legal issues that might get lost in a longer CLE, or are more time sensitive, and to share the expertise and insight of legal aid staff members statewide. For those interested in being interviewed for a podcast, the casual prerecorded format allows greater flexibility, minus the stress of a live presentation.

To suggest a podcast topic, or presenter, contact Emily Good at egood@mnlegalservices.org. Themes can include practice issues and considerations, legal challenges for which a full training might not be needed, and important rules updates or regulatory changes that are not major overhauls. The podcast can also include links and notes related to the discussion that will appear along with the recording.

In the first episode, staff attorney Meghan Maes of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) explains how one parent can go about getting a passport for a child when the other parent either isn’t available or isn’t cooperative. Emily and Meghan talk about Minnesota statutes, State department forms, and declaratory judgments.

Listen here:  Podcast 1: Passports and the Single Parent and find future installments on State Support's site.

Rise in Minnesota Volunteer Attorneys

Minnesota Lawyer recently covered the marked surge in legal services volunteerism, speaking with staff from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) and Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN).

"Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen an increase in attorneys wanting to volunteer,” said Kirsten Olson, staff attorney and pro bono director at MMLA in Minneapolis. “That includes solo practitioners, larger-firm attorneys and even people who are out of the main legal arena right now such as retired attorneys and those working in education.”

One of the areas seeing vigorous interest is immigration law. “I think it does have to do with the election,” said Olson. “A lot of people say their interest in getting involved right now has been triggered by the change in the political environment and the ways that laws are being interpreted.” Olson also mentioned disability rights, gender justice and senior issues as areas of interest from volunteer attorneys.

Julie Thelen, development coordinator with the Volunteer Lawyers Network in Minneapolis noted, “We have monthly training sessions for about 800 volunteer lawyers every year. There’s a lot of demand for help serving undocumented (immigrant) clients, as well as need for lawyers who work in family and employment law.”

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Both organizations, and most that coordinate volunteer lawyers, offer in-person training in specialized areas of law as well as printed materials. Staff tailor work to direct volunteer skills where they’re needed, and many organizations offer malpractice insurance.

The ProJusticeMN.org website aggregates volunteer opportunities for many of the state's legal services organizations and offers a case placement tool, opportunities to quickly offer legal advice online, and a guide for pro bono opportunities, among other services. Read the full article.