Year End Reflections
Back then, we were set to create a training program for United Way 211 on how to make targeted legal referrals. The C4J “stool” would have another leg too—a telephone hotline staffed by volunteer lawyers who would give legal advice on landlord-tenant law. Our territory would be limited mainly to Hennepin and Ramsey counties.
Fast forward to 2015 and the C4J stool now has three legs. Yes, for sure we’ve been training 211 on legal referrals (we’ve conducted 26 training sessions thus far), but the telephone hotline concept was tossed quickly due to a variety of factors. In its place are two other distinct programs which further shape the C4J mission of helping low-income persons connect with legal resources.
One program is our “Legal Liaison Program” which connects social service providers and nonprofit legal providers and which trains on legal resources for low-income persons. In the process of creating the LLP, we’ve found that C4J serves as a nice convener and facilitator of collaborations. We’ve also found that people just love the “speed networking” component of our meetings, which gives folks a reason to get out of their comfort zones and meet new people.
The third leg of the C4J stool is our outreach in identifying gaps in the legal system and then working to close them. We’ve had some notable successes, such as helping two law firms to “adopt” the Jermiah Program and thus give 80 women and 100 children direct, ready-made access to lawyers.
Another success occurred because early on, we realized there’s a huge population that makes too much to qualify for Legal Aid but doesn’t make enough to pay market rate lawyers. For three and a half years, C4J visioned, facilitated, cajoled, and pushed for the creation of a community law firm that will serve this population while also training new lawyers on best practices. We’re pleased to report that next month—January 2016—the “Collaborate Community Law Initiative” will open in St. Paul.
Furthermore, as with everything else, C4J’s geographic territory expanded. Now, instead of restricting ourselves to the Twin Cities, we’re going to greater Minnesota as part of an expanded Legal Liaison Program. Thus, in 2015, we visited seven cities in greater Minnesota and presented to more than 80 nonprofits, each of which serves thousands of clients. Our goal for 2016 is to conduct LLP sessions in 10 greater Minnesota cities. Stay tuned.
I suspect that it was this willingness to adapt, change, and morph which helped prompt the American Bar Association to confer on C4J its Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access earlier this year. As I’ve written before, it was and remains quite an honor, especially when you consider it came just as C4J was entering its fourth year of operation.
Finally, I any reflection about this year must include gratitude toward the C4J board of directors, including board president Paul Floyd, and the yeoperson work of Kristin Giant, who literally stepped into the C4J Program Manager’s position with very little preparation. Thanks finally to our donors, collaborators, and friends!
Have a great holiday season and wonderful 2016. We’ll be here to help!