Attempting the “impossible”

What is it like to study for the bar exam? It is akin to memorizing a full set of encyclopedia Britannica and understanding how the nuances of each word agree with and contradict the nuances of every other word. Basically, it is impossible. One bar prep instructor kindly pointed that out. His consolation was that it is also impossible for everyone else, so, “Don’t panic. Attempt the impossible.”

When I started bar prep, I explained to my friends that I would be unavailable while I was studying. They complied and left me alone to study. Now I wonder why all my friends deserted me. Bar prep is isolating. Depressing. Impossible. Sometimes I cry. I quit. How could I even think about quitting when I look back at all it took to get me this far? I am irrational.

I have wanted to become an attorney for almost fifty years, since I was twelve. Finally, after my own kids got their degrees and careers, I took a year and studied for the LSAT. The LSAT is the entrance exam that requires you to know where Sam would sit if he was two chairs to the left of Renee and never saw a doctor on Sunday. I still don’t know how the LSAT applies to practicing law. I’m not alone. The LSAT is no longer required for Harvard and Georgetown law schools. I took it twice.

My job did not allow me to go to law school in the traditional way, so when a friend told me about law schools in California that were entirely online, I immediately applied. The caveat is, if I was in the lucky 5% of the class who passed the first year, and then passed the “Baby Bar” required to take years the next 2-4 years, and graduated, I would still be allowed to practice only in California. I live in Minnesota.

Just as I was about to enroll in my second year of online law school in California, William Mitchell (now Mitchell Hamline) announced that it was starting a Hybrid program that would allow people to study part online, and part concentrated study on campus. I would have to start over, but then I could practice where I live. To my amazement I was accepted to the law school of my dreams. William Mitchell was where my hero, Rosalie Wahl, went. Justice Wahl was the reason I never let go of my dream over the years. Justice Wahl did not go to law school until her kids were older. It is never too late to follow your dream.

I am pretty sure I was the happiest person who walked across that stage in May. No one told me that bar prep is this horrendous and would cause me to question my own sanity. If they did, I did not believe them. (I studied Greek, in Portuguese, in Brazil—without knowing Portuguese. Bar prep is worse.) I have a newfound awe for anyone who ever passed the bar. They are superheroes who did the impossible. I am not a superhero–but still, I will attempt the impossible in three weeks.

Karen Grossman, the author of this post, externed for CCLI in 2017, graduated from Mitchell Hamline in 2018 and will take the Minnesota bar shortly.  We wish her fulfillment of her “impossible” dream!

Congratulations to Inti Martínez Alemán as Ceiba Fôrte launches

Inti Martínez Alemán practices civil, business, and employment litigation, and is dedicated to helping those in the Latino community facing unjust situations at work, in their neighborhood, with their lenders, with their business partners, and in other situations where they are concerned they may be taken advantage of.

Before practicing in the United States, Inti was a licensed attorney in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where practiced law for five years representing clients in cases of national impact and coverage. A 2016 graduate of Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Inti founded Ceiba Fôrte Law Firm upon admission to the Minnesota bar and became CCLI’s first full-time advocate. In his 18 months with CCLI, Inti built a practice that provides affordable and competent legal representation to Latinos who are more comfortable working with a Spanish-speaking attorney who was born and raised in Latin America. Inti was interviewed by KSTP about his service to the immigrant community in Minnesota and the increasing use of delegations of parental authority, a form he helped to develop.

In addition to his law practice, Inti’s service to the public and the profession is extensive.  Among many other service and teaching activities he represents the Hennepin County Bar Association in the Minnesota State Bar Association Assembly, serves on the boards of LegalCORPS, Twin Cities Christian Legal Aid, and the alumni association and MBA advisory council of Houghton College. Inti also founded and now coordinates a regular legal aid clinic at Eagle Brook Church. He has been recognized as a Diversity Fellow by the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division, and in May 2018 received the Access to Justice Award from the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association.

CCLI is grateful to have had the opportunity to assist Inti in the launch of the Ceiba Fôrte Law Firm and congratulates him as he continues his practice in the community.

AND GREAT NEWS… Ceiba Fôrte Law Firm is not moving far! Inti is setting up his practice in the same suite at 393 Dunlap Street (St. Paul) where CCLI is located. Come visit him in Suite #450F.

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.