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Did you know there is more to practicelaw than just forms?  practicelaw is designed to be a repository of resources intended to help your practice.  Similarly, the MSBA’s practiceblawg is a blog for the Association to share with you how the MSBA can help you improve your efficiency and grow your practice.  The MSBA offers members a number of products and services and is always looking for ways to better serve its members and provide greater value.

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Two birds, one stone

by Joe Kaczrowski | May 11, 2015

Pro bono is defined as “[b]eing or involving uncompensated legal services performed esp. for the public good.” Rule 6.1 sets the aspirational goal for Minnesota attorneys as at least 50 hours each year. While pro bono work is good for the profession and society as a whole, and offers attorneys a way to give back to their communities, it also provides attorneys an opportunity for professional development and to gain experience.

The MSBA is one of many advocates for improved access to the justice system. To further that goal the MSBA has a number of programs and partnerships to encourage attorneys to provide pro bono services and to help them do so. The MSBA's North Star Lawyer program recognizes MSBA members who provide at least 50 hours of pro bono service in a calendar year. Lawyers also can get some CLE credit for their pro bono work.

Often described as the "justice gap," there is a large discrepancy between those who need legal services and those who can find and afford them. According to SMRLS (Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services), there are over four thousand eligible clients for every paid legal aid attorney.

To learn more about the MSBA's policies and programs, visit the Access to Justice page. The MSBA also has a new Volunteer & Get Involved page that lists several opportunities for attorneys to provide services and give back to their communities.

In addition to more traditional pro bono options through programs like VLN (Volunteer Lawyers Network), there are a number of limited scope and commitment opportunities available for Minnesota attorneys. For example, MLAO (Minnesota Legal Advice Online) is an online portal that allows volunteer attorneys to answer specific legal questions from eligible users.

County law libraries also often have self-help clinic programs for area residents. For example, Scott County holds free monthly divorce and family law clinics. The Minnesota Judicial Branch maintains a webpage listing legal advice clinics and self-help centers throughout the state.

Another limited scope program available to Minnesota attorneys is the Wills for Heroes program, which provides basic estate planning documents to first responders and their spouses. The Minnesota Wills for Heroes program was launched in 2007 and is approaching its 10,000th estate plan. The Wills for Heroes program hosts several clinics each month throughout the state. Individuals can participate as attorneys or data entry volunteers; the program also encourages law students to get involved.

In addition to the service these programs provide to the community, they also generally include plentiful support and educational resources for attorneys. Programs like VLN encourage volunteers of "all experience levels" and provide substantive training and administrative support, along with malpractice insurance coverage for those representing or advising VLN clients. Similar to the MSBA's mndocs product, programs like VLN and Wills for Heroes rely on HotDocs software to assist volunteer attorneys with document generation.

Whether you are looking to gain some experience, either in a new practice area or in general, or interested in ways to give back to your community, the MSBA has a number of programs available to you. Check out the Get Involved page to find an opportunity that fits your needs and interests.

In addition to those who can't afford legal services, as noted in an earlier post there is another segment of the population who can afford legal services but cannot find representation. Tools like the MSBA's MN Find a Lawyer directory can help. Members also can indicate on their profiles, if they want, any pro bono work they do, willingness to accept "low bono" clients or offer sliding scale fees, etc. The MSBA Colleague Directory also offers an opportunity for members to connect with each other, including for pro bono work. Among other options, members can indicate an interest in co-counsel opportunities and make specific note of an interest in working on pro bono matters.

Colleague Directory - co-counsel