SMRLS' CEO Explains Why LawHelpMN is a Boon for the Legal Aid Community

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The September edition of the Ramsey County Bar Association’s (RCBA) Barrister Newsletter includes a feature by Jessie Nicholson, chief executive officer of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, in which she writes about the importance of LawHelpMN.org as a singular and comprehensive resource for civil legal issues in Minnesota.

In her article, A Boon for the Legal Aid Community: The New LawHelpMN.org (page 4), Nicholson focuses on the site’s primary functions, and notably, its newest tool, the LawHelpMN Guide. Created to give users a custom experience, the Guide matches them with the most relevant legal information and referrals based on their specific question, circumstances, and location.

“The staff here at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) have enthusiastically embraced the new LawHelpMN and are involved firsthand in making sure information about our services at SMRLS is up-to-date, accurate, and immediately available, ensuring that those who need us can find us. As a nonprofit we are sometimes limited in the services we can provide. LawHelpMN’s Provider and Clinics Directory puts targeted referrals and specific information about other organizations at our fingertips.”

Registration Now Open for 2019 Legal Services Statewide Conference

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State Support is excited to announce that registration opens today for the 2019 Legal Services Statewide Conference—Addressing Disparity: A Way Forward. The conference will be held Wednesday, October 23 to Friday, October 25, 2019 at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria, MN. Conference participants can expect to learn about the effects of racial, economic, and other disparities on our clients and ourselves and how to address them in our professional and personal lives. Attendees can earn up to 10.5 hours of Minnesota CLE credit, including up to 5 hours of elimination of bias and 1 hour of ethics credit.

The conference officially kicks-off on Wednesday evening, October 23, with special guest Emily Baxter, founder and executive director of We Are All Criminals (WAAC), a non-profit organization and storytelling project that challenges perceptions of what it means to be “criminal.” Emily’s session will be a conversation about crime, privilege, punishment, and second chances. One in four people in the US has a criminal record; four in four have a criminal history. Through stories, statutes, and statistics, we’ll examine the disparate impact of the criminal and juvenile justice systems on people of color and poor people across the country.

Resmaa Menakem, noted author, international speaker, and justice coach will deliver Thursday morning’s keynote address, in which he’ll discuss and define the theory of racialized trauma. He will share theory and insights on how historical, inter-generational, persistent institutional and personal inequities have impacted each of us and led to a decontextualized and internalized white body supremacy trauma we all carry in our bodies and unknowingly perpetuate in our culture. A break-out session on somatic-body practices and tools for confronting common historical and racial myths will follow the opening session.

Another highlight of this year's conference will be Friday morning’s closing plenary by the Honorable Susan Miles. In her session, Mindful Ways to Relax at Work and Keep Your Wits About You, Judge Miles will discuss bringing mindfulness to work, along with tips on how to increase concentration and calm, and rise above the temptation to react to the pervasive distractions in our professional and personal worlds.

To register for the conference, and find out more about breakout sessions, speakers, and social activities, visit our conference page and click on the Register tab. Then, just select your participant type. We expect this to be the most attended conference in our history, so register early as space is limited! See you at Arrowwood!

Legal Aid Service of Northeastern MN Introduces New Volunteer Attorney Program

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Legal Aid Service of Northeastern (LASNEM) is pleased to announce the expansion of its services to include a new Private Attorney Involvement (PAI) program. LASNEM’s new PAI program follows the dissolution of the Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP).  

LASNEM and VAP, which have operated as separate nonprofits for nearly 40 years, both provide low-income individuals in Northeastern Minnesota with civil legal services. LASNEM achieves its mission through its staffed lawyers and support staff, and VAP achieves this mission by engaging private attorneys to provide pro bono assistance. LASNEM will now house both objectives under one roof to improve the client experience, save money, and create additional capacity to help more people.  

Working together with VAP on this transition ensures that LASNEM can provide increased services for more people who truly need help. LASNEM is creating one easily accessible point of entry to receive help, and staff will work quickly to provide the level of service needed. LASNEM is building capacity to decrease the justice gap in the region.

LASNEM’s PAI program is primarily funded through the State of Minnesota, but also receives significant funds through the federal legal aid program, and through independent foundations. With limited resources available to fund these programs, this move consolidates regional resources to more effectively support people in need. 

To all who have supported the efforts of VAP over the years, either by offering your time and energy through pro bono legal services to those less fortunate, or by singing your heart out at the annual fundraiser, thank you. Thank you for your commitment to providing legal assistance to those who desperately need it. When public interest attorneys and the private legal community work together, we have the best chance for success in bridging the justice gap. The continued support of local, northeastern Minnesota legal communities is critical to working towards justice for all.  

LASNEM and VAP invite attorneys to contact LASNEM to learn more about volunteer opportunities, including legal clinics, community education, and representation on cases in areas of the attorney’s interest. Benefits for volunteers include CLE credits for pro bono hours, recognition through the Minnesota State Bar Association, recognition from regional justice partners and free CLE training opportunities.

LASNEM is currently staffing its PAI program, and will be the exclusive PAI program operating in the region by October 31, 2019. Attorneys interested in volunteering can email LASNEM’s PAI Program at pai@lasnem.org. Individuals in need of legal services can visit www.lasnem.org or call the office at 800-933-1112.

LawHelpMN: Commitment to Improvement and Advancement for Our Clients

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By J. Singleton, Program Manager

On February 1, 2019, State Support launched a redesigned LawHelpMN.org featuring the new LawHelpMN Guide. Our work didn’t stop there though. Since launch, we’ve continued to improve the website with a dedicated development budget that turns user feedback and website analytics into tangible advancements. For example, we’ve added functionality that allows users to filter their Guide service results based on their preferences, share their Guide results via text or email, and use the Providers and Clinics Directory to print off custom referral sheets. 

A key component of our continuous improvement goals is a 6-month review of the Guide’s questions. We use analytics to determine when it seems like users are confused or are not finding the information they need. In one instance, we discovered that most people who chose the “Kids, Teens, and School” legal topic had questions about custody, which is included under the “Family” legal topic. While the Guide was still able to direct users to the appropriate custody resources, it wasn’t the most direct route to those resources. To help users get to the right section of the Guide earlier in the process, we will be changing “Kids, Teens, and School” to “Youth Rights and Education” to make the kinds of issues included in that topic clearer. 

During our 6-month review, we also identify and add new resources and adjust the Guide to make sure users can find those new resources readily. In our first six-month Guide revision we wanted to make sure low-income inventors and owners of small businesses and nonprofits knew they might be able to get legal assistance through LegalCORPS. To accomplish this, we are adding a new series of questions to identify people who have a legal issue related to their invention, non-profit or small business. We also crafted questions to identify additional situations in which Community Mediation Minnesota would be a good referral. 

If you have suggestions about how to make LawHelpMN a better resource, please let us know!