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.

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.

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.

Housing Preservation Project Keeps Affordable Housing in Reach

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With its integrated Housing Counseling, Information, & Litigation Project, the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM) demonstrates its commitment to the housing needs of low-income people in northern St. Louis County. The Project's goal is to ensure and preserve safe and affordable housing options by providing litigation, conflict resolution, and legal counsel in four primary areas:

  1. Eviction Defense – both post-filing and pre-filing of court eviction;
  2. Income maintenance – public benefits, unemployment issues,  wage and garnishment matters, Social Security termination, spousal maintenance and child support;
  3. Safe housing – repair and habitability as well as Fair Housing issues; and
  4. Housing denials – Subsidized housing application denials and private housing discrimination. 

LASNEM is unique as the sole legal component in the area's housing continuum. In its collaboration with community service providers such as the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA), Range Transitional Housing (RTH), Range Mental Health Center (RMHC) and St. Louis County, LASNEM's Housing Counseling, Information, & Litigation Project seeks creative solutions to housing the homeless and maintaining housing for those at risk in an area where affordable rental housing is in short supply. The Project actively participates in the Coordinated Entry System (CES), attending and leading weekly shelter meetings that address solutions for every homeless household in northern St. Louis County. LASNEM assists approximately 400 households with housing related issues each year, and provides legal information, education, and guidance to its community partners about changes in housing laws and community housing trends.

Because of the often adversarial, costly, and time-consuming nature of the Court process, LASNEM has developed strong working relationships with landlords – both public and private – in order to be involved in addressing issues before they reach the Court system. These relationships help prevent litigation and obtain the best outcome for the tenant, with less time and cost for the landlord. Landlords are also asked to refer tenants at risk of losing housing, or being denied housing, to LASNEM.  

The Project conducts landlord forums as needed to address systemic issues, as well as educational events on relevant landlord- tenant law. The Project also works closely with housing providers and social service agencies to keep abreast of issues and to work on systemic and individual solutions.

LASNEM’s housing advocate, Heather Lindula, represents the legal aid perspective in several community capacities such as the Rural Housing Coalition, and the Heading Home St. Louis County Governance Board. She actively participates in the Prevention Rapid Rehousing subcommittee of the Governance Board, chairs the Coordinated Entry subcommittee, and is the Coordinated Entry Planner for northern St. Louis County.  Last year, Lindula was instrumental in implementing the first annual Northern St. Louis County Housing Summit, which  identified  barriers to housing and possible  solutions. LASNEM’s managing attorney, Bill Maxwell, provides legal work for Habitat for Humanity  and is a member of the Board of Directors of Range Transitional Housing.

As part of its commitment to community education, LASNEM conducts monthly trainings on the rights and responsibilities of renters at Merritt House – a treatment facility for individuals with significant mental health and chemical dependency needs and at area schools and other gatherings of community members. Through these efforts, LASNEM improves awareness of housing rights and mitigates future housing problems.