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Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announces the More Representation Minneapolis initiative on Nov. 14. Behind Frey, from left, are Tom Walsh, executive director of the Volunteer Lawyers Network; Clint Conner, a partner at Dorsey Whitney; Gina Robinson, a client representative to the Volunteer Lawyers Network's Housing Committee; and Luke Grundman, managing housing attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. (Submitted photo: Office of Mayor Jacob Frey)
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announces the More Representation Minneapolis initiative on Nov. 14. Behind Frey, from left, are Tom Walsh, executive director of the Volunteer Lawyers Network; Clint Conner, a partner at Dorsey Whitney; Gina Robinson, a client representative to the Volunteer Lawyers Network's Housing Committee; and Luke Grundman, managing housing attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. (Submitted photo: Office of Mayor Jacob Frey)

More firms sign on for pro-bono tenant cases

Five more law firms have signed up for Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s pro-bono eviction defense initiative.

Muria Kruger, housing program manager and resource attorney at the Volunteer Lawyers Network, said Wednesday that 17 law firms have committed pro bono attorneys to effort, dubbed More Representation Minneapolis.

That number is up from 12 on Nov. 14, the day Frey announced the initiative. At the time Frey said the aim was for 25 new pro bono attorneys to commit to representing tenants through the Volunteer Lawyers Network.

Frey described that group as one of the initiative’s two anchor organizations; Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid is the other.

Kruger said the number of committed law firms might grow to 19, but the sign-on process for two firms is not yet complete. “I am very pleased with the support that we’ve gotten from the law firms,” she said.

Also on Wednesday, Volunteer Lawyers Network issued a press release detailing an in-depth study of the effects that legal representation has in Housing Court.

“We see a vast difference in results between people who are being represented and people who are being unrepresented,” Kruger said. “Our system isn’t treating those people fairly, if they don’t have an attorney.”

The study was conducted jointly between Jan. 1 and June 30 jointly by Volunteer Lawyers Network and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.

Included in it were 100 tenants who received full representation from Legal Aid lawyers through the organization’s normal intake process prior to tenants’ court date. It also analyzed some random cases in which tenants signed up for representation through free legal clinics on the day of their proceedings.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Eleven percent if unrepresented tenants won their cases outright, while 51 percent of settled; landlords won 37 percent of those cases. Tenants among the group of 100 fully represented Legal Aid clients won 21 percent of their cases and settled 45 percent. Landlords won just 5 percent.
  • Of the 100 fully represented tenants, 52 percent were able to remain in their homes at the end of their cases. That was true for just 31 percent of unrepresented tenants.
  • Where evictions were granted, represented tenants were granted much more time to stay in their residences and make other living arrangements. Tenants without lawyers in those situations got an average of 14 days to vacate. The 100 fully represented tenants got an average of 31 days to leave.
  • Among the 100 Legal Aid clients, 78 percent had their eviction records cleared. That was true for just 6 percent of unrepresented clients.

The study also found that about 80 percent of Housing Court clients are people of color. Many are single mothers and first-time renters, Kruger said.

It also indicates that fully represented tenants are four times less likely to use homeless shelters, resulting in savings of more than $231,000.

Kruger said she thinks attorneys who want a just legal system should be concerned about the results.

“We see vastly different based on those people who can afford an attorney and those people who cannot afford an attorney,” she said. “I think we have an obligation to make sure that those people who can’t afford an attorney to have legal representation.”

More Representation Minneapolis continues to solicit volunteers. For more information on the pro bono program, contact Kruger at 612-752-6647 or muria@vlnmn.org.

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