"We Are All Criminals" Founder Emily Baxter Kicks Off 2019 Statewide Conference

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As we enter the long-awaited summer months, State Support staff are working behind the scenes to prepare for this fall’s 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 will 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.

The conference will kick-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 about privilege and dignity, helping us think about criminality with more nuance, going beyond just good guys and bad guys by challenging perceptions of what it means to be “criminal.”

Before founding WAAC , Emily served as the director of public policy at the Council on Crime and Justice and as an assistant public defender at the Regional Native Public Defense Corporation representing members of the Leech Lake and White Earth Bands of Ojibwe charged with crimes in Minnesota State court. Emily is a former fellow at the University of Minnesota Law School where she began developing WAAC through an Archibald Bush Leadership Fellowship in 2012. She now lives in Durham, NC.

Emily’s kick-off 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. The presentation will include first-person narratives and photographs. Read more at We Are All Criminals.

Historic MFIP Increase to Take Effect February 2020

Jessica Webster, Legal Services Advocacy Project

Jessica Webster, Legal Services Advocacy Project

For the first time in 33 years, Minnesota’s most vulnerable will see an increase in their Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) benefit. Minnesota was one of 3 states that hadn’t increased its cash assistance benefit to low-income families since 1986 (Oklahoma and Arizona being the others). The historic increase of $100 per month will take effect in February of next year, thanks in part to the long-standing efforts of Jessica Webster and the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP), Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, other community advocates and bipartisan state legislators.

“Minnesota should reform the program with regular cost-of-living adjustments of 1 or 2% so another couple of decades do not pass without an increase,” said Webster, staff attorney with LSAP.

For more about how Minnesota got here and what is sought for the future, read the full article in the Star Tribune: Minnesota's neediest families to see first MFIP cash increase in 33 years.

Minnesota Pro Bono Lawyers Are National Leaders

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A recent Star Tribune article lauds the dedicated and exemplary work of Minnesota’s pro bono attorneys and explains the activism that led to its strength. Minnesota is leading the country with pro bono stewardship from firms like Faegre Baker Daniels — honored in May by the American Bar Association — Fredrikson & Byron and Dorsey & Whitney, to name a few.

”In 2017, 928 Minnesota lawyers contributed 50 or more hours of pro bono work — more than 106,000 hours,” said Steve Marchese, public service director of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

That spirit of volunteerism and commitment to justice for all is also at the core of the pro bono work being done by Volunteer Lawyers Network, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and the Advocates for Human Rights.

“Our mission is to protect and promote the basic human needs of people in poverty through the power of legal volunteers,” said VLN’s executive director Thomas Walsh.

Read the full article: Minnesota lawyers' dedication to pro bono work has made the state a national leader.

SMRLS' Executive Director Interviewed in Bench & Bar

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In a brief and insightful interview with Bench & Bar of Minnesota, Jessie Nicholson, chief executive officer of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), talks about her decision to pursue a legal career and the youthful inspiration that still influences her today. Read Meet Jessie Nicholson: ‘Never forget where you came from.