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Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Justice for All grant focuses on civil legal assistance

Minnesota has been named one of just seven states to receive a Justice for All grant from the National Center for State Courts. The grant applicants—the judicial branch, Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, and the MSBA—are coming together across systems and working with partners to move Minnesota toward “100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.”

At the September MSBA Assembly meeting, 7th Judicial District Judge Sarah Hennesy, who serves as chair of the Justice for All Steering Committee, and Bridget Gernander, the legal services grant manager for the Minnesota Judicial Branch, reported on the project. The courts, private bar, legal aid, and other partners have spent several months looking at key parts of the justice system, such as court processes, self-help services, and access to lawyers; the group has also explored promising programs from other states. Now the partners are moving toward action steps to improve access to justice. 

Hennesy and Gernander stressed that “effective assistance” is expected to involve a continuum of services, which may include self-help resources, brief legal advice, unbundled services, or full representation, depending on the legal matter and client. Measures to reach the goal may include simplification of court processes for self-represented parties and improved triage and referral systems. Because people with legal issues often interact first with their churches, social services providers, and medical providers, they said, it is important to create a better gateway to legal information and services through those stakeholders. The MSBA and its partners will apply for an implementation grant for that work.

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