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.

VAP's Executive Director on Advocacy for Low Income Northern Minnesotans

Low-income people in northern Minnesota who can't afford a lawyer can seek access to justice through the Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP) in Duluth. VAP's executive director, Dori Streit, understands the obstacles, and her commitment is inspiring to others. In fact, she'll be honored next month with the MSBA's Bernard P. Becker Emerging Leader Award. 

"All attorneys have an ethical obligation to aspire to provide 50 hours of pro bono service per year," Streit said. "We work to make it easier for attorneys to do their volunteer work by screening clients for eligibility and keeping track of the details." Read the full story.

Dori Streit, Executive Director of the Volunteer Attorney Program

Dori Streit, Executive Director of the Volunteer Attorney Program

MSBA Announces 2016 Bernard P. Becker Awards

The Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged Committee will present its annual Bernard P. Becker award for outstanding legal services to the following recipients at the April 22nd MSBA Assembly meeting.

  • Law Student: Krzysztof Wysokinski, University of Minnesota Law School
  • Advocate: Melissa Pfeiffer, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
  • Legacy of Excellence: Mike Persellin, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
  • Emerging Leader: Dori Streit, Volunteer Attorney Program

These honorees have demonstrated a commitment to providing zealous and skilled legal representation for low-income and disadvantaged Minnesotans, as illustrated in the following summaries of their significant contributions. Congratulations to the 2016 award winners!

Law Student: Krzysztof Wysokinski, University of Minnesota Law School
Mr. Wysokinski is a law student who has accumulated over 760 Minnesota Justice Foundation volunteer hours. His accomplishments include representing criminal defendants at the Neighborhood Justice Center, acting as the student director of the U of M Consumer Protection Clinic and chair of the U of M Student Criminal Justice League, volunteering at the Council on Crime and Justice (CCJ) Second Chance Saturday criminal expungement clinic, and representing criminal expungement clients through CCJ.

Non-Attorney Advocate: Melissa Pfeiffer, Immigrant Law Center
Ms. Pfeiffer is the Associate Director of the Immigrant Law Center (ILCM). She has over 11 years of experience working in civil legal services, and an additional four years of nonprofit service. She successfully managed a large expansion of ILCM's staff and service areas and was instrumental in navigating ILCM through the recession, when funding cuts threatened civil legal aid programs throughout the state. According to ILCM's Executive Director, "She has a deep passion and commitment to equity, justice and the protection of the vulnerable and victims of abuse. She sets personal and organizational expectations of excellence, has an uncompromising work ethic, and is one of the most patient, caring, funny, creative team players with the unique gift of making everyone around her better."

Legacy of Excellence: Mike Persellin, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
Michael Persellin is a staff attorney with the Senior Law Project of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, specializing in consumer and benefits issues. He has worked in the civil legal aid field since 1983, at more legal services offices than any attorney in Minnesota. Mr. Persellin's current practice centers on Social Security, debt collection, and Medical Assistance appeal issues. He is co-chair of the MSBA Social Security Disability Section, and edit's the Section's newsletter. Since 2008, Mr. Persellin has maintained case law summaries and an index of Social Security cases within the 8th Circuit. His deputy director describes Mr. Persellin as having "a legendary career as an all-around utility player for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid."

Emerging Leader: Dori Streit, Volunteer Attorney Program
Ms. Streit has been the executive director of Duluth-based Volunteer Attorney Program for the past four years. She is well-known for turning the organization around, and expanding coverage and local volunteer support, during a time of limited resources for civil legal aid programs. She has expanded staff and established a wildly popular annual fundraiser called "Lawlapalooza." Before working at VAP, Ms. Streit clerked for Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project and the American Civil Liberties Union during law school. Following law school, she worked at Indian Legal Assistance Program (ILAP) for four years. She provided direct legal representation to low-income clients on civil matters, along with assisting with funding development work for the organization. As a staff attorney at ILAP, Ms. Streit established herself in the Duluth-area legal community and developed an understanding of the legal needs (and barriers to addressing those needs) of low-income community members in Northeastern Minnesota.

(L to R) Mike Persellin, Dori Streit, Melissa Pfeiffer, and Krzysztof Wysokinski