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

No time? No problem! Two great online pro bono outlets for the busy Minnesota attorney

Research shows the number one factor discouraging lawyers from volunteering is lack of time.1 Luckily, new online tools from legal aid are making pro bono easier than ever before.2 Minnesota Legal Advice Online is a website connecting low-income Minnesotans with remote legal advice from volunteer lawyers across the state.3

MN Legal Advice Online is a virtual legal clinic: People with a low income sign up and post a question, and volunteer attorneys provide legal advice online. It works just like an email conversation, and is easy to use on mobile devices. Volunteers choose which questions they want to answer based on their subject matter knowledge. In 2016, volunteers answered over 600 questions on the site.

It’s also a flexible commitment. Volunteers can answer as many questions as they want, from wherever they want, on their schedule. The limited scope nature of the representation means once the question is answered and closed, the attorney-client relationship concludes. The project provides malpractice coverage, too. Plus, the site easily tracks volunteer hours for CLE credit or North Star Lawyer certification.

Shaun Jamison, a volunteer with the site, is a big fan of the idea. He’s convinced that many people could avoid a lot of legal pain through a short interaction with an attorney, which MN Legal Advice Online provides. “Sadly,” he says, “it’s not possible to give everyone full representation who needs it, but we can put people in a lot better position with solid information.”

The site allows lawyers to help clients anywhere in the state, enabling metro area lawyers to help clients who otherwise may not have access. While legal aid serves people across the state, it only has the resources to help around two out of every five people who qualify for help.4 Pro bono help is essential in filling this justice gap. To date, MN Legal Advice Online volunteers have fielded questions from clients in 85 of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

MN Legal Advice Online is just one of many innovative technology projects happening at legal aid designed to facilitate the pro bono experience. Legal aid also runs www.ProJusticeMN.org, a website supporting pro bono attorneys and legal aid attorneys. Volunteers can use ProJusticeMN to find a pro bono case or project or see upcoming trainings. The site also has an extensive poverty law resource library with practice manuals, document assembly tools, interview guides, and settlement checklists for different areas of law.

Both MN Legal Advice Online and ProJusticeMN were redesigned in 2017 to add features and improve usability. These projects were made possible with funding from the Legal Services Advisory Committee, Minnesota Court Technology Fund, and Legal Services Corporation. Legal aid is also hard at work partnering with the MSBA and Minnesota Judicial Branch on additional projects that increase access to justice through technology.

Armed with these new technologies from the poverty law experts at legal aid, even the busiest lawyer can find the time to do some pro bono work and help improve access to justice.

Get started at www.MNLegalAdvice.org and www.ProJusticeMN.org. You can also learn more—or make a donation to the effort—at www.MNLegalServices.org.

EMILY GOOD is the legal projects manager at Legal Services State Support, where she administers the Minnesota Legal Advice Online (MLAO) project. She is an adjunct professor with the Immigration & Human Rights Clinic at the University of Minnesota Law School’s Center for New Americans. 

 

Notes

1 American Bar Association, Supporting Justice II: A Report on the Pro Bono Work of America’s Lawyers, March 2013, page 20, available at www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/probono_public_service/ls_pb_Supporting_Justice_III_final.authcheckdam.pdf.

2 Learn more about legal aid in Minnesota at www.MNLegalServices.org. 

3 Available at www.MNLegalAdvice.org. Visit www.ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org for information about similar projects in other states.

4 Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, Legal Aid’s Impact: Economic Impact Measurements of Minnesota Legal Aid, 2016, page 3, available at https://mylegalaid.org/downloads/Economic_Impact_Report.pdf. 

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