Innovations for Clients: LOON Takes Flight

Legal Organizations Online Network: LOON

Legal Organizations Online Network: LOON

By Betsy Parrell, Supervising Attorney

Starting today, staff from sixteen Minnesota legal services organizations are working toward better coordination and referrals through access to a new online tool: LOON (Legal Organizations Online Network).

As an integral part of the LawHelpMN.org rebuild project, LOON is a password-protected, online database 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 aims to improve client referrals by enabling legal services providers to make more accurate referrals amongst each other through access to detailed, real-time data. LOON will also power the referral information that will be available to everyone on the new LawHelpMN.org, once launched.  In addition, because of LOON, staff at individual organizations no longer need to maintain and update their own legal services referral information, which can easily fall out-of-date.  

The organizations currently participating in LOON are:

  • Anishinabe Legal Services

  • Central Minnesota Legal Services

  • Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota

  • Judicare of Anoka County

  • Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota

  • Legal Assistance of Dakota County

  • Legal Assistance of Olmsted County

  • Legal Rights Center

  • Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Inc.

  • Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

  • Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services

  • Standpoint

  • The Advocates for Human Rights

  • Tubman

  • Volunteer Attorney Program

  • Volunteer Lawyers Network

These sixteen organizations have password access to LOON, and the ability to update and maintain their own service listings.  For organizations that do not currently have password access such as specialty legal service providers, law libraries, court-based self-help services, bar association referral programs, and community mediation State Support will gradually add their services to LOON and coordinate with them to maintain and update their listings.

State Support is grateful for the expertise shared by staff members of the sixteen participating organizations. Their feedback was used to guide the development of LOON’s technical infrastructure and user interface. Staff from these organizations also worked diligently to update and verify the accuracy of their listings in anticipation of LOON’s launch today. Additionally, over 100 individuals at these organizations registered for trainings offered by State Support on how to search service listings, in order to be prepared to use LOON effectively to make referrals.

Continued coordination and communication will be critical to LOON’s success. Staff members from the participating organizations will need to communicate with each other, and with State Support, to ensure that the accuracy and quality of information in LOON, and the tool itself, can continue to improve. Working together, we can make LOON a robust, reliable tool that helps all of us better serve client needs across the legal services delivery system.

Tribal Court Appellate Case Makes Lasting Impact on Housing Evictions

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During the past year, Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS) has utilized tribal funding sources to undertake a major housing case on behalf of low-income tenants living in units managed by the White Earth Housing Authority.

The local Indian Housing Authority had a practice of boarding up housing units immediately upon certain suspected lease violations — a violation of the due process rights of many eviction defendants.  In this eviction case,  ALS lost the trial court decision, but staff attorney Steve Campbell immediately appealed. The Court decided to allow the client to occupy her unit until a decision on the appeal was made. This enabled the client, a single pregnant mother, to live in her home for several months until the Court of Appeals ultimately decided that the Housing Authority was required to file an action in Court to board up her unit. They also ruled that the client had not willingly violated the terms of her lease.  The Court ordered the client’s lease to be renewed, and her eviction overturned.  By this decision, several additional pending eviction cases were settled with favorable outcomes for tenants.  As a result, the Housing Authority is also reviewing their administrative policies.

Anishinabe Legal Services Announces New Interactive Forms for Tribal Court

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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 LawHelpMN.org 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 LawHelpMN.org, or the ALS blog page.

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.