Legal Aid Intake Staff: The Front Line

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A recent edition of Attorney at Law Magazine features the people comprising Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s first point of contact for those seeking legal help — the intake staff. The article “On the Front Line at Legal Aid,” by Leykn Schmatz, shines a light on the team that fields thousands of calls and conducts over 1200 interviews each month.

The fast-paced work of these perceptive and efficient interviewers requires a comprehensive knowledge of eligibility criteria and common legal issues across the poverty law continuum, as well as a strong sense of justice and empathy.

“We listen to the caller’s story and translate their personal crisis into a legal problem,” says Intake Supervisor Luci Russell. “If a client calls and says their landlord is a terrible person, that’s not a legal problem. If they have black mold and the heat doesn’t work, then we have a case.” Read more at Attorney at Law Magazine Minnesota.

Housing Court Project Study Shows How Legal Help Can Prevent Homelessness

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The cover story in this month’s Bench and Bar of Minnesota is proof positive that the Housing Court Project in Hennepin County is preventing homelessness and family instability on a regular basis. The article, authored by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Luke Grundman, along with project colleagues Muria Kruger of Volunteer Lawyers Network and Tom Tinkham former Dorsey and Whitney trial partner, describes the project and a recent study examining its effectiveness.

For the past 18 years, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) and Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) have maintained a legal clinic at the Hennepin County Courthouse offering eviction advice and full representation, as well as help negotiating settlements and preparing expungement petitions. Recently, the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and the Pohlad Family Foundation have provided significant financial support to bolster this vital court project. The clinic is staffed by 11 attorneys from MMLA, and in 2017 alone, nearly 150 volunteer attorneys from VLN provided 1,400 hours of legal service.

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The study on the project’s impact compared results for tenants who were unrepresented to those who received limited advice or help and then to those who received full representation. Eleven random court calendar days were selected for review. Results demonstrated that those represented in eviction proceedings have better outcomes and those fully represented have even more positive outcomes. Read more in Bench and Bar of Minnesota.

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.

Mayor and Local Housing Advocates Launch "More Representation Minneapolis"

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The Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), along with a group of twelve area law firms, have joined forces to combat the growing problem of unrepresented litigants in housing court. Their initiative - More Representation Minneapolis - will bring an increased cohort of pro bono attorneys to the aid of low-income tenants in eviction defense and rent escrow/tenant remedy actions in 2019. VLN and MMLA will anchor the More Representation Minneapolis project, which has a short-term goal of adding 25 additional attorneys to VLN’s network, and increasing their housing representation work by 20 percent.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the project will help prevent unfair evictions by utilizing the existing resources in our legal community, and it dovetails with the $150,000 in his 2019 proposed city budget to launch a pilot project to fund legal services for low-income renters facing displacement.

Speaking to the Star Tribune, Luke Grundman, managing attorney of the housing unit at MMLA, said, “People have nowhere to go. If you have an eviction on your record, it’s almost impossible [to find housing].”

Read more about More Representation Minneapolis in the Minnesota Lawyer.