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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. https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/educational-materials/Documents/Teen-Contract-Log-Sheet.pdf 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).  https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/teen-driving/Documents/Teen%20License%20Parent%20Withdrawal%20Form.pdf

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: https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/reports-statistics/Documents/2015-crash-facts.pdf

CCLI welcomes Robert Schuneman

CCLI is pleased to welcome its newest advocate, Robert Schuneman.  Robert offers a wealth of real-world business expertise developed through many years of hands-on business management coupled with substantial academic experience teaching graduate and undergraduate business courses. He frequently tells his students and staff members that “Continuous Improvement Begins with Me”, by which he means that before organizations and companies can adopt continuous improvement, the people in those organizations must first commit to improving themselves. It was primarily this focus on self-improvement that led Robert to pursue a law degree in the weekend program at Hamline University School of Law, one of the predecessor schools comprising Mitchell Hamline School of Law. Robert graduated cum laude from Mitchell Hamline School of Law in August 2016 and was admitted to the Minnesota bar in May 2017. His primary practice areas are business law and estate planning.

Connect with Robert by checking out his profile or visiting his website.

A Day in Court

Chains around his belly connecting his cuffed hands and feet made it difficult for him to walk or raise his right hand. I’ve seen this on TV but today I saw it less than two feet from me as he walked into the courthouse. He was ushered to his seat by a bailiff who sat close to him with a half wall between them. He must have murdered someone, I thought.

Several people in the courtroom chatted quietly or on their phones as we waited for the judge to appear. After waiting a half hour, I decided to check my email. A big burly bailiff instructed me to turn my phone off. Confused, I quickly complied. I later learned a phone in court is a privilege for those who have passed the bar. Finally, we all rose as the honorable judge entered the courtroom and took her place high above those on the risers next to her. It felt like TV.

One after another, the attorneys for the defendants announced the defendant was ready to plead guilty. Each line of the petition was read to the defendant before it was presented to the judge. The judge offered to read each line again and asked if the defendant understood that he (all the defendants I saw today were male) had the right to a jury trial. If he chose a jury trial, the state would have to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury. After the defendant responded, the judge announced that the defendant’s choice to give up his rights was “knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.” I was struck by how kind and respectful the judges were to the defendants.

I spoke to a prosecuting attorney in the hall and he told me most would take a plea (plead guilty to some lesser charge) at these “pre-trial” hearings. He said upwards of 90% of all the accused will take a plea before their case ever reaches a jury. On the one hand, this is good. It saves the court and the accused time and money of a trial. On the other hand, I wondered how many people accepted a plea because they needed to get back to work so they didn’t lose their job. Anyone can be accused; an accusation does not equal guilt. This is why half of the Bill of Rights protect the rights of the accused.

One defense attorney did not know where her client was, and feared he may have been deported. Many were charged with violating probation. No one was charged with murder. The man in shackles violated an order of no-contact when he texted his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his child. I do not understand why a man who had not yet pleaded guilty was in shackles. He may be a danger to his ex-girlfriend but not to anyone in that courtroom. How could we allow an innocent (until proven or admitted guilty) human to be treated so inhumanely? Another defendant’s Dad told the judge how proud he was that his son has turned his life around. The most entertaining defendant admitted to the judge this was his eighth time this year that he was caught driving without a license. He explained that he couldn’t afford the accrued fines to get his license back, but he needed to drive to his job. He admitted he probably wouldn’t stop driving. The judge told him she liked him. His attorney requested a light sentence and highlighted what an honest man her client was. The entire room laughed. After hearing his sentence and a program that may help him get his license back, a grateful defendant said, “Thank you judge and Merry Christmas.” The judge returned, “Merry Christmas” to him and then to each of the remaining defendants. It struck me what a stressful situation this man was in, yet he started a chain of merriment. May we all follow his example this season and make this world a little happier.

CCLI Welcomes Intern Karen Grossman

Karen Grossman is a 3L in Mitchell Hamline’s hybrid program fulfilling her 48-year dream of becoming an attorney. It all started when her sixth-grade teacher planted the idea. His actual words were, “I hope you don’t argue with your husband as much as you argue with me.” Karen and her husband Glen have celebrated 32 years of marriage and have 2 adult millennials. Karen is proud of the work CCLI does to make quality legal services more accessible to clients in the “justice gap” and is excited to join CCLI as an extern.  She graduated summa cum laude from Crown College, served on the Minnesota Realtors Professional Standards Ethics Committee, and is a qualified neutral under Minnesota Rule 114.  And she makes amazing lefse.

CCLI Legal Incubator Executive Director To Be Recognized As 2017 Minnesota Lawyer Attorney of the Year

Each year Minnesota Lawyer honors the top attorneys throughout the state of Minnesota for their notable achievements. Among an impressive group of lawyers to receive this recognition for 2017 is Karin Ciano, Executive Director of the Collaborative Community Law Initiative, a nonprofit small-law-practice incubator in the Saint Paul Midway.  CCLI’s incubator program, the first of its kind in Minnesota, connects recent graduates of Mitchell Hamline School of Law with experienced mentors who can help them build solo and small law practices serving clients in the “justice gap”—that is, Minnesotans who do not qualify for free legal services but may have a limited budget to address legal problems.  2017 has been CCLI’s first full year of operations.  Karin will be honored at the 18th annual Attorneys of the Year award ceremony on the evening of February 7, 2018 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis. To learn more about the Collaborative Community Law Initiative call 651-321-9255 or visit www.cclimn.org.