May 1 – CCLI at Washington County Law Day

Many thanks to David Tomenes and the organizers of Law Day in Washington County for inviting CCLI to join the Washington County Law Library, Court Self-Help Center, and volunteer attorneys speaking with the public about the legal system and options for Minnesotans who are not eligible for free legal services.  Pictured – Law Librarian Tim Devine, Karin Ciano, Haroun McClellan, and Joe Vaccaro.

A la Carte (Unbundled) Legal Services for What We Don’t Know That We Don’t Know

Up to 85% of people with legal concerns represent themselves in civil cases. This is rarely a good idea. Donald Rumsfield is quoted as saying, “[w]e know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Sadly, many people who represent themselves discover too late that there was a form they needed or that a deadline was missed. The attorneys at CCLI can help you research the law, gather facts and forms, draft documents, aid with discovery, coach you for court, or represent you in court. You, the client can decide how much and in what areas you need legal assistance. This is usually a more affordable option, especially when you consider how costly it can be to represent yourself if it turns out there were vital things that you didn’t know that you didn’t know.

Why do people represent themselves? Some have confidence in their own ability to find and read the law. Someone like this may hire an attorney to do no more than review documents. Others represent themselves because they cannot afford legal services. Even if they qualify for free legal aid, they may be one of the 50% who quality but are turned away. And still others may not qualify for legal aid but they also cannot afford to pay thousands for an attorney. We at CCLI call these the people who fall in the “Justice Gap.” CCLI provides legal services (and access to justice) to more people in the community, in an effort to close that gap.

This video from Arkansas explains it well.

Digby Willard and His Marketing Magic

Digby Willard, affectionately (and appropriately) dubbed a “Marketing Guru,” offered a series of marketing classes to CCLI’s attorneys. Digby met weekly with the attorneys in a conference room at Moore Law. His classes involve lots of practical advice and new ways to think about marketing. One example, is to think about benefits attorneys can offer clients, such as, ‘four things you must think about before going to court’ or ‘how to prepare ….’ He shared how to create an attractive business card, post cards, or newsletters that people will actually look forward to reading. You can sign up for Digby’s “Surprisingly Good Legal Marketing Newsletter for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys” here:

Amy Rotering and Karen Grossman represent CCLI at Community Connections Conference

On February 10, Amy Rotering and I attended the Community Connections Conference in Minneapolis to spread the word about the affordable legal services offered by the attorneys in CCLI’s incubator. People that stopped at CCLI’s table kindly asked for our boilerplate spiel. Some shared their story with us. Those who needed services were encouraged to call CCLI. Some just needed a listening ear. Some liked the idea of hiring an attorney to help them help themselves with transparent, ala-carte-type choices. Some stopped for the candy Amy brought. Several lit up with approval when they understood that ccli exists to help people who might otherwise be forced to self-represent. Some seemed genuinely thankful to have discovered CCLI because their organization serves clients who have legal needs and their organizations are not equipped for legal needs. The woman at the table next to ours said meeting us was “the gem of her day.” She was an incredible, articulate, eccentric-looking woman who had fascinating stories and made the day go quickly.

Amy and I took turns “networking” with people at other booths. I once asked CCLI director, Karin Ciano, what her goals are when she meets people at events such as these. She said she goes to “learn something.” I was surprised she did not say she goes to tell everyone about ccli’s services or her own private practice. Last week Karin was honored as a Minnesota Attorney of the Year. Karin’s words are worth heeding. So, I kept Karin’s words in mind and I learned. I learned that there is a country in Ethiopia named Oromo, that speaks Oromo and does beautiful beadwork. About 40,000 Oromo’s add to Minnesota’s rich culture. I spoke to a kind lady at the MN Employment and Economic Development table. They provide state services for the blind for free. She had an interesting display of products including the strongest magnifier I have ever seen. I took a card for a friend who recently lost her sight.

The 2018 Community Connections Conference was aptly named. An enthusiastic, “Let’s see how we can collaborate!” was heard and spoken more than once. CCLI were the only attorneys represented at the conference. Attending the conference was time well-spent. The most valuable thing Amy and I both took home were the new connections.

Access to Legal Services is a National Problem

Lack of access to legal services in the family law context is a national problem. There is help for people in our community who are facing divorce or child custody challenges who cannot afford an attorney. Representing oneself (pro se) in most cases is neither the best option nor the only option. The hybrid ADR process of Early Neutral Evaluation—ENE—can be an efficient and inexpensive path to agreements that foster the best interests of the family.

Once the parties have begun the court process, but before extensive discovery has taken place, one or more neutral evaluators, who are experts in the parties’ subject issues, will meet with the parties and their attorneys. Each side presents its view of the issues. The expert evaluators then focus on the most critical issues and predict how the court would conclude. After the parties hear the evaluator’s opinion, they are better equipped to negotiate. There are two types of ENE that can be used in family law disputes, financial ENE and social ENE. Financial ENE addresses issues of child and spousal support, while social ENE addresses custody and parenting issues.

ENE is not for everyone. For example, ENE would not be effective if extensive discovery is needed in order to understand the issues. Another example is if one or both parties are already set in their understanding of the issues. If a party is set in his or her ways, the advisory opinion would unlikely influence that party and the ENE would not be useful. Because the ENE process is less formal than court, ENE does not prepare parties for the procedural complexities of court.

ENE is especially effective in addressing the crisis of pro se representation in family law matters. People going through divorce or custody battles often lack the knowledge to adequately represent themselves in court and have raw emotions that cloud their thinking. Yet many people struggle to use the court system without legal representation. In 2013 the American Bar Association reported that up to 90 percent of family law cases went to court with at least one party who had no legal representation. Not filing the correct forms, including discovery documents and pleadings, can be detrimental. A pro se litigant may have important points but if he or she fails to back it up with evidence, because of not understanding the rules, the results may be unjust. This is especially true when one party is represented by counsel and the other is not. The expert neutral evaluator can help make technical complex issues understandable. The evaluator helps the parties understand the strengths, weaknesses and legalities of the case.

In family disputes, emotions can cloud the issues and get in the way of understanding how a judge might rule. The neutral evaluator can give parties a dose of reality. ENE also spares parties the emotion of litigating personal issues in public. The ENE process is entirely confidential (unlike court proceedings). The evaluator’s assessment is not shared outside of the ENE proceedings. Confidentiality encourages sharing of sensitive, private family information. The parties can trust that the ENE process is neutral. ENE helps the parties focus on critical issues in a non-confrontational setting and promotes a sense of fairness. ENE can help keep those who don’t understand the law from agreeing to things that are not in their best interest or the best interest of the children. When parents settle out of court the biggest winners are the children.

Although there are other methods of resolving disputes outside of court, the ENE process holds the most promise for addressing society’s pressing legal needs regarding pro se representation of family matters. Mediation is the most common. Like mediation, ENE is an opportunity for each voice to be heard. Unlike mediation, in ENE, the neutral has experience in the subject matter. A mediator, on the other hand is a neutral party who does not need expertise of family law matters because a mediator will not usually give an opinion. The evaluator’s suggestion can help the parties move toward an agreement.

A systematic approach to ENE preparation results in better, more efficient outcomes. Parties that are prepared to share honestly and are open to a fresh understanding of the issues, can often get to the center of their dispute and negotiate a fair resolution. If the parties are unable to come up with a solution, the neutral evaluator can suggest ways to manage discovery which will keep future costs down. Finally, court is complex, intimidating, and costly. ENE may be a cost and time saving alternative to resolve disputes of one who can’t afford a lawyer but wants to be sure his or her interests are met. If the parties do go to court, they go with a better understanding of the issues.

Winter Driving and Teens

“Even the strongest blizzards start with a single snowflake.”

― Sara Raasch, Snow Like Ashes

Winter Driving

Most Minnesotans can still recall the first time they spun out on the ice. Mine was in the middle of a busy intersection on University Avenue over 40 years ago. My heart stopped as I helplessly watched the world turn around me and drivers, possibly more experienced than myself, manage to avoid my out of control vehicle. Even the most seasoned of drivers must use caution when driving on Minnesota’s slippery roads, always watching for that hidden black ice and overly confidant newly licensed driver. Each winter we must learn how to drive all over again.

About one in ten teen drivers are involved in traffic crashes each year. Half of those crashes happen in December and January. The MN Department of Public Safety has created a Driving Contract with some practical tips to help parents of teen drivers help their teens develop safe driving habits. There is even a Teen License Parent Withdrawal Form is available for parents to cancel the driving privileges of their teen’s driver’s license (under age 18).

No matter how many precautions we take, accidents happen. If you find yourself in need of legal services, please contact ccli for reasonable, quality representation at English: 651-321-9255 | Español: 651-383-1450.



Note: crash facts came from: