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CCLI Board Member Nelson Peralta Appointed as Judge for Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District

At the end of last month, CCLI Board Member Nelson Peralta was appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to fill one of two vacant seats left by Judges Thomas M. Sipkins and Lyonel Norris in Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District.

Governor Dayton had nothing but good things to say about Nelson following his appointment. He thanked Nelson for his willingness to serve his fellow Minnesotans and for bringing a “diverse range of legal experience to the bench”. Nelson, along with fellow appointee Thomas Conley, will be chambered at Minneapolis in Hennepin County.

We are confident that Nelson will only continue to add to his ever expanding list of accomplishments while serving on the bench. A sincere congratulations and we wish you all the best moving forward with your Judgeship!

 

If you would like to read more about Nelson’s appointment, the full article can be found here!

A Solution to the Justice Gap?

I think I have finally done it. I have figured out a solution to the justice gap that exists in the United States. If you are weary of letting others perform the duties and functions of people who hold professional licenses, read no further. But then again, why do lawyers need a license to practice anyway? Some critics have speculated that licensing requirements are simply a way to keep the number of lawyers down and, as a result, give attorneys the freedom to overcharge for their services. Just some food for thought…and I’m about to feed you another course.

Instead of only licensed attorneys being able to practice law, what if we wiped out the licensing requirement completely? What if we said that essentially anyone could practice law and charge for their services provided they inform the client of their educational and criminal background? Assuming people care about competency and training, the educational background check requirement would weed out people with no training at all, who might be unfit to practice law. But then, who decides whether is someone is fit for the practice of law? I digress, and we move forward.

Although a chunk of the population could still not practice due to underlying circumstances, there would be many more opportunities for people to practice. Legal counsel would be more affordable and accessible for people of modest means. If I have a neighbor who went to Harvard for undergrad and then on to receive their doctorate from Stanford, why shouldn’t they be able to represent me in court? They are seemingly more than intelligent enough to do so and if I believe they would represent me well, why not? Since this person is my neighbor who I have known for a long time, forming a working attorney-client relationship will be a piece of cake!

Well, hold your horses there, bud. Although the fictional person described above does (likely) exist somewhere out in society, many would argue that such a person would not be as competent to provide legal services. Although that person may very well be competent enough to conduct research and draft documents, there are so many more things that lawyers do. Although they may be able to establish a working attorney client-relationship, will they be able to maintain it? And what about the rules of professional responsibility? Everyone who would provide legal services under my proposal would very well be breaking the rules that every lawyer swears to uphold when they become licensed to practice.   

As you can see, the questions I pose in this post are not something of a new phenomenon. The debate regarding closing the justice gap has existed for a long time.  There is (seemingly) no one magical solution that will suddenly close the justice gap. Even so, lawyers have posed the exact same solution to the one I have put forth. Lawyerist’s Sam Glover wrote an article entitled “We can Close the Access-to-Justice Gap, but You’re Not Going to Like It,” which can be found here.  The MSBA’s Alternative Legal Models Task Force recommended that Minnesota consider a Limited License Legal Technician program similar to that in place in Washington state; but in the end, the MSBA Assembly did not go forward with the proposal.  In the meantime, programs like the MSBA’s Northstar Program are attempting to cure the ever-growing pains felt by those affected by the justice gap. In 2016 alone, the program recognized 1,010 lawyers, who provided an estimated 113,000 hours of free legal services valued at $22,600,000. You can view the list here.

Even with all of the proposals by lawyers themselves and programs aimed at minimizing the justice gap, are these things enough? Seemingly not, as the debate continues to move forward as to how to best make legal services accessible for everyone, regardless of income level and social status.  

I guess the paramount question is, what does a law license signify? If it signifies that you are competent enough to practice law, what does that mean? Who decides what qualities and/or characteristics one must possess to be able to practice law?

Again, the more I ponder the further the answers seem to flee from me.

 

Dakota Erickson is a rising 2L at Mitchell Hamline School of Law; he’s spending his summer assisting CCLI’s advocates with their law practices.

Should Lawyers be Required to Provide Pro Bono Services?

As it stands now, lawyers are not required to provide pro bono services. The ABA model rules say that a lawyer “should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year.” The wording of the rule itself lends to the idea that the 50 hours of pro bono work is something to aspire to, but not everyone’s aspirations are the same. When I first read the rule, my initial thoughts were those of confusion and perplexity, as I wasn’t sure exactly why the model rules would include conduct that a lawyer “should” engage in. In any event, inclusion of the rule itself is not the topic of this blog post, so let’s get back on track.

Moving away from what may seem like a mix of skepticism and pessimism, I know for a fact that there are programs that act as agents of change. In my post “A Solution to the Justice Gap”, I make reference to the Northstar Program run by the MSBA. However, even with the existence of programs like these, the justice gap still exists. So how much would it take to completely close the justice gap? Sure, 1,010 lawyers each contributing at least 50 hours a year is a fairly large number, but it would seem to me that the number would need to envelop a much higher percentage of lawyers to close the gap indefinitely.

As with every argument, the other side is that lawyers cannot themselves afford to provide free legal services to anyone and everyone who walks through their door and is qualified. The cost of law school is high, and lawyers need to put food on the table and sustain themselves just as everyone else does. In addition, as far as I am concerned, nearly every other profession gets compensated for their work, so why should lawyers be the only profession in which free services must be provided?

The answers to the questions that plague the legal community cannot be remedied through simplistic avenues of change, although there are organizations that are attempting to remedy at least a portion of the gap. Having said that, providing everyone with legal counsel will not happen in the next year, or maybe even within the next decade, or maybe ever. Regardless, if every lawyer were required to provide some amount of pro bono services annually, I still believe the gap that currently exists in the justice system might slowly start closing. Given the amount of hours lawyers put in annually, 50 doesn’t seem like such a huge favor to ask.

 

Dakota Erickson is a rising 2L at Mitchell Hamline School of Law; he’s spending his summer assisting CCLI’s advocates with their law practices.

I have a joke.

If I were to ask a lawyer to tell me an embarrassing story, I would probably end up with a 50 page double-spaced brief on my desk — written in size-13, Century Schoolbook or Courier New font, and formally bound with a red cover in order to formally indicate that this brief was a response to my request. This brief would consist of a solid two pages of story and another 58 pages explaining that although the two pages of story seem embarrassing on the surface, it was, in fact, paramount in winning 84.3 cases. Also, there would probably be a disclaimer on the first page warning me that if I were to disclose this story with anyone other than the lawyer without the lawyer’s permission, I would be promptly sued for defamation and might face punitive damages that would result from this offensive and unlawful unilateral action of sharing highly personal information about a private individual.

All of which is to say that, after just five weeks of studying the legal system, I’m beginning to think that lawyers may suffer from intellectual insecurity.

Perhaps as a result, legal culture demands that lawyers maintain an aura of professionalism, among other things by using a lot of legalese. But professionalism at its core is a simple idea: that lawyers should be able to get things done after spending a barely justifiable amount of money and time learning a specialized set of knowledge. Yes, getting things done may entail reading up on one’s legalese, but even more importantly, it requires translating, or at least interpreting, this legalese to the client in order to help them.

When the legal system does not dedicate enough resources to do so, I believe that the legal system fails its people. From my experiences these past two weeks, the legal system is at best, unwelcoming, and at worst hostile, to those who do not understand it. Take, for example, the Ramsey County Law Library. Why is it located on the 18th floor when most of the elevators only go up to the 17th floor? That’s like telling your kid at dinner that he can have ice cream after finishing his broccoli, but hiding the ice cream at the back of the freezer in the basement at his grandmother’s house in Nebraska.

I guess I had two jokes.

CCLI’s Inti Martinez-Aleman Interviewed by KSTP’s Farrah Fazal

Last Monday CCLI’s very own Inti Martinez-Aleman was interviewed by KSTP’s Farrah Fazal regarding the growing fear experienced by many immigrants in light of the current political climate. Inti illustrates the notion that while immigrants fear for themselves, they are even more concerned about their children being deported. Being a non U.S. citizen himself, Inti recounts how his past life experiences fuel his passion for helping those whose fear of deportation prevents them from seeking outside assistance.

Inti’s powerful interview sheds light on many of the socioeconomic obstacles that many immigrants face on a daily basis.  The interview makes perfectly clear the growing demand for the low bono services that Inti and other participants of the CCLI incubator program provide.

You can watch Inti’s full length interview here

 

Welcome to Summer at CCLI

CCLI is pleased to welcome two new faces to its summer staff.  Dakota (Cody) Erickson has joined us, substituting in for Josephine Nguyen as CCLI’s law clerk.  Thank you Josephine for all your outstanding work, and welcome Cody!  Cody will spend his summer supporting CCLI advocates Inti Martinez-Aleman and Elizabeth Neyens in their law practices.

We are also very pleased to have the opportunity to host a Macalester student through the MacNest program, a summer internship program that brings students interested in social justice together with nonprofit and for-profit startups in the Twin Cities.  Operations intern Albert Lee has joined us to learn more about the justice gap, to help us understand the specific needs of Minnesotans who face barriers to accessing justice, and to work with us to develop processes that will enable our advocates to connect with modest-means clients who need their services.  Welcome Albert!

Cody and Albert each bring a distinctive perspective to CCLI’s mission, and I’ve invited them to post to our blog over the summer.  No post would be complete without the usual disclaimer: their views are not necessarily the views of CCLI.  We’re hoping to update the blog every Friday for your weekend-reading pleasure.  Happy summer and enjoy!

CCLI Executive Director Virginia Bell Named a 2016 Attorney of the Year

CCLI interim Executive Director Virginia (“Ginny”) Bell has been named a 2016 Attorney of the Year for her efforts in bringing CCLI from concept to launch.

Ginny will be honored at a banquet on February 16, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Minneapolis.  Former CCLI Board member and State Law Librarian Liz Reppe will be honored for her work with the Minnesota Appeals Self-Help Clinic.  Current CCLI Board member Nelson Peralta will be honored for his work developing the Latino Legal Experience educational program that brought Justice Sonia Sotomayor to Minnesota.

Congratulations Ginny, Liz, and Nelson, and thank you for all you have done for CCLI!