Minnesota Legal Services Coalition Announces New “Start-to-Finish” Expungement Tool for Pro Bono Attorneys
Thursday, March 11, 2010
- Organization: Minnesota Legal Services Coalition
The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition (MLSC) announced today the availability of a new, interactive online resource to help pro bono attorneys pursue criminal expungement on behalf of indigent clients. The “Criminal Expungement Start-to-Finish” program provides a crash course on expungement statutes and case law. It uses HotDocs® software to draft and print a set of pleadings and letters tailored to suit each client’s criminal record.
Criminal records can exclude individuals from housing and employment opportunities for decades, long after the individual has completed criminal penalties. These disadvantages contribute to a cycle of powerlessness, poverty and often recidivism. Even if charges were dropped against a defendant, the record remains for any potential employer or landlord to see. Not only does this place a burden on the justice system and taxpayers, it can also weaken communities, neighborhoods and families.
The “Criminal Expungement Start-to-Finish” program lets pro bono attorneys with no prior expungement experience empower their clients to become fully productive members of society. The tool can be found live on Minnesota’s statewide Pro Bono attorney website, ProJusticeMN.org, at http://www.projusticemn.org/law-library/item.300777 and is available at no cost to website members.
“Start-to-Finish” was developed in partnership with the Volunteer Lawyers Network and the Council on Crime and Justice. The Volunteer Lawyers Network and its pro bono volunteers assist low-income Minnesotans with criminal expungement petitions and provided much of the content the interviews are based on. The Council on Crime and Justice currently hosts an AmeriCorps*VISTA Criminal Records Project Attorney, Emily Baxter, whose role involves increasing the capacity of communities throughout Minnesota to assist individuals with criminal records, especially individuals of limited means. Ms. Baxter provided much of the legal expertise and other support for the project.
The Council on Crime and Justice and Volunteer Lawyers Network have developed additional forms and materials, also available on ProJusticeMN.org, to help attorneys advocate for their clients. “Helping a client get a criminal record expunged is beneficial to the client and rewarding to the attorney, so we try to make it as accessible as possible for volunteer lawyers,” says Christy Szitta, a resource attorney at Volunteer Lawyers Network.
The MLSC is among an increasing number of innovative legal aid organizations, pro bono programs and courts around the country using online document assembly to increase and improve access to the courts. This growing movement is made possible by LawHelp Interactive, a program run by Pro Bono Net, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice. LawHelp Interactive allows self-represented litigants and pro bono and legal aid attorneys to quickly and easily draft complete legal documents, such as requests for orders of protection and answers to eviction complaints, by answering questions via an easy-to-use online interface. This initiative is in use in 26 states and generated more than 147,000 documents in 2009.
About Council on Crime and Justice
The Council on Crime and Justice (CCJ) (www.crimeandjustice.org) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit that has provided leadership and innovative solutions to social and criminal justice issues of concern in Minnesota for over 50 years. CCJ’s work addresses the barriers to successful integration into the community faced by offenders and their families (employment, housing, education, etc.) and the challenges faced by victims of crime and those most at risk of falling into the criminal justice system. CCJ conducts research into the causes and consequences of crime, designs and tests the efficacy of new service models for target populations, and advocates to change systems or policies to improve the quality of life in Minnesota communities.
About Minnesota Legal Services Coalition
Founded in 1981, the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition (www.mnlegalservices.org) is an association of seven Minnesota regional legal services programs. Formed to enhance cooperation and coordination, MLSC supports the regional programs that help low-income Minnesotans with a broad range of civil legal matters.
About Pro Bono Net
Pro Bono Net (www.probono.net) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and increased volunteer lawyer participation. Founded in 1998 with support from the Open Society Institute, Pro Bono Net has created a broad and powerful network of nonprofit legal organizations, courts and bar associations across the United States. With 60,000 members and platforms in use in 30 states and Canadian provinces, Pro Bono Net’s reach covers approximately two-thirds of the poverty population and lawyers in the United States.
About Volunteer Lawyers Network
Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) (www.volunteerlawyersnetwork.org), established in 1966, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit providing free civil legal services to low-income persons through volunteer attorneys. VLN engages the vast human resources of the private bar in addressing some of the most pressing legal issues facing those in poverty. In 2009, VLN pro bono volunteers helped more than 6,000 clients address civil legal issues through walk-in clinics, telephone advice, workshops, and full representation services. VLN collaborates with a wide range of legal services organizations to ensure that legal services to low-income persons are provided as efficiently and effectively as possible.