Minneapolis (06-19-07): Last week, the boards of directors of the Hennepin and Ramsey County bar associations adopted the report of a special “Call for Justice” Task Force, and authorized the next step in implementing a plan that will provide for a simpler initial access point to legal services for the disadvantaged, along with a limited “hotline” that will provide legal advice services by phone.
The “Call for Justice” Task Force was a joint initiative last fall of the Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) and the Ramsey County Bar Association (RCBA) presidents: Michael Unger and Elizabeth Keyes, respectively. The task force, chaired by Thomas Fraser, with Susan Buckley as vice chair, consisted of representatives of many of the key legal service providers and stakeholders, including Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Central Minnesota Legal Services, CentroLegal, Volunteer Lawyers Network, Chrysalis, the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Legal Aid to the Disadvantaged Committee, large firm pro bono coordinators, and the bar associations and their respective foundations. Said Candee Goodman, pro bono coordinator for the Lindquist and Vennum law firm, “In all my many years of promoting legal services to the disadvantaged, such a collaboration between all key players in the Twin Cities legal services agencies and the bar associations is unprecedented.” Patrick Burns, Senior Assistant Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, expressed his belief that when the legal community looks back twenty years from now, this will be seen as a key and pivotal point for legal help and access to the justice system for Minnesota’s disadvantaged.
The report of the Task Force calls for a partnership with United Way 2-1-1 for the development, enhancement, and utilization of the three-digit dialing service to provide easy and effective routing of callers to the most appropriate service provider based upon the individuals’ specific needs and circumstances. That routing might include an immediate transfer of appropriate calls to attorneys who will be able to provide legal advice and direction. This “hotline” function will be a pilot program that will measure and evaluate the effectiveness of such hotline services for the metro areas.
The stage is now set for an implementation group to put together the details of the new initiative, including the difficult task of identifying new financial resources for this project. The Task Force has emphasized the need to advance this project without competing for existing funding for legal services. Keyes emphatically noted that enhancing access to legal service opportunities by taking from the funds that actually provide attorney help and representation would be wasted effort.
It is anticipated that an implementation group will be hard at work by fall, focusing attention on start-up and ongoing funding, administrative design, training and enhancement of 2-1-1’s database and its referral process, hiring of staff, and recruitment of volunteer attorneys for the hotline. “It is no small task,” noted Task Force Chair Tom Fraser. “We have taken some unprecedented steps, but this is only the beginning of the journey. The destination is a new approach to access for justice that serves those seeking legal help, and only the results can tell us when we have arrived.”
Michael Unger and Elizabeth Keyes will complete their respective presidential years at the end of June, but are pleased to see phase one completed with actions by the boards of directors authorizing the move ahead before they hand the baton to their successors.
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Copies of the task force’s report and recommendations are available on request. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.