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.

CMLS and Hennepin County Establish Full-time Position at Domestic Abuse Service Center

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For the past year, lawyers from Central Minnesota Regional Legal Services (CMLS) have provided free legal advice and representation to those seeking orders for protection on three days each week at the Hennepin County Family Justice Center. By meeting with domestic violence victims on the day of their court hearing, CMLS attorneys are able to provide vital support that can make a profound difference.

Beginning in March, funding for a full-time attorney position will allow CMLS and the county attorney’s office to provide wrap-around services to victims and their families on an expanded basis from the current project.  With a lawyer based in the Domestic Abuse Service Center, much more time can be spent at the beginning of the legal process, which according to Lilo Schluender, supervising attorney with CMLS, “…can have a huge impact on whether a victim is going to be believed and get the protection they need.”

Community Mediation Minnesota: Single Entry Point for Statewide Conflict Resolution Services

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The newly formed Community Mediation Minnesota (CMM) is a statewide network of certified nonprofit service providers with skilled mediators ready to help Minnesotans resolve conflicts.  From neighbor disputes to family quarrels, schoolyard bullying to workplace harassment, CMM offers a range of services for individuals, groups, and communities.

CMM member organizations include Community Mediation & Restorative Services, Inc., Conflict Resolution Center, Dispute Resolution Center, Mediation and Conflict Solutions, Mediation and Restorative Services, and Restorative and Mediation Practices. By requesting a mediation or additional information through the CMM collaborative, a person will be connected to the member organization best able to serve them, thus creating a single point of entry for anyone seeking mediation or restorative services. The public can request a mediation at communitymediationmn.org or by calling 833-266-2663.  CMM will even contact the other side to see if mediation is a mutually acceptable option.

CMM also provides remote mediation services for greater Minnesotans using Zoom technology. Regardless of the parties’ locations in Minnesota, or even in other states, CMM can facilitate a mediation.

The soon-to-be-launched rebuild of LawHelpMN.org, will include referrals to services such as CMM for those who may want to try to resolve their problem outside the court system. Because mediation is an alternative to going to court, not all cases are appropriate for it. However with many conflicts involving neighbors, landlords and tenants, family relationships, parenting time, workplace issues and businesses and consumers, mediation may be a convenient and affordable option for resolving disputes and allowing all participants to be heard and to have control over the outcome.

More information about mediation and brochures for public distribution can be requested at outreach@communitymediationmn.org.