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.