The Extra Mile: Seven Minnesota attorneys who donate to legal aid causes

1119-Sherry-BrucknerSherry Bruckner

Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota donor

A graduate of Hamline University School of Law, Sherry Ann Bruckner dedicated the first 20 years of her career to public interest law. In her work with HOME Line, Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky (AppalReD), and Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM), Bruckner advocated for thousands of clients in consumer, education, employment, family, housing, public benefits, and senior legal matters. She now serves as a mediator and conflict resolution skills trainer through Healing Truth LLC, based in Alexandria, Minnesota. Bruckner also holds an adjunct faculty position at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Appreciating the challenge and importance of civil legal aid work motivates her to be a Partner in Justice (financial supporter) of LSNM. In her words, “From advising a senior facing wrongful garnishment to filing federal court action to protect important housing rights—and the thousands of critical family and other cases—legal aid makes a very real difference every single day. With only one legal aid attorney for every 6,000 people eligible in northwest Minnesota, the advocates and support staff give generously of their time, talent, passion and compassion to bring justice to rural Minnesota. Even with double the staff size, there will still be a justice gap. However, if we all do our part by giving what we can, we will bridge the gap and bring hope and justice to more people.”

1119-Sarah-DavisSarah Davis 

Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota donor

Sarah Davis is a new donor to the Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota (LRAP). LRAP Minnesota helps reduce the education debt burden experienced by dedicated public interest lawyers who represent low-income clients seeking legal services to secure essential needs like food, shelter, and safety, and fundamental rights like equal access to justice.

Davis said she donates to LRAP for a simple reason: “I can’t think of a more critical program to support effective advocacy for people whose circumstances would not otherwise allow them to have an attorney.”

LRAP helped Davis make her student loan payments until her loans were forgiven last year through Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Without the burden of student loan debt, Sarah can commit to a career helping at-risk youth at the Legal Rights Center. Her philanthropic support for LRAP is helping to sustain the work of other attorneys in careers they love.

1119-Tim-GoodmanTim Goodman 

Minnesota Justice Foundation donor

Tim Goodman and his wife, Anne, have provided financial support to the Minnesota Justice Foundation for 25 years. Tim joined the MJF Board of Directors as a 1L at the University of Minnesota Law School. “When I started law school,” he recalls, “I learned about MJF’s work and decided to become involved. I saw firsthand how important fundraising is to MJF’s work. Connecting with individuals and convincing them to donate to MJF means a law student can receive a small stipend to work at a legal aid clinic; it funds the salary for an MJF staff attorney who arranges pro bono placements and reaches out to students; and it allows law students and others to train high school students on street law. 

“Connecting with individuals also means sharing MJF’s story, its mission, and its work. Hearing the law student experiences, learning the difference they make, and knowing that this work can lead to a lifetime commitment to pro bono service has led me to donate to MJF year after year.”

Goodman has backed up his enthusiastic support for the mission of MJF by serving the board in a variety of leadership positions, including treasurer, vice-president, and president. He has also put his legal expertise to work for MJF by drafting several benefits plans for the organization. 

1119-Cooper-LauraLaura Cooper 

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid donor

In 1975, the women’s caucus at the University of Minnesota Law School asked for a course in welfare law. Professor Laura Cooper was asked to teach the course—and to start a welfare law clinic. Lacking experience, she asked Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (then the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis) to allow her to serve as counsel and coach her through some cases. That was the beginning of a long relationship that has been invaluable to legal aid.

Cooper served on Legal Aid’s board of directors for 23 years, including a term as president. She is a founding member of the Fund for Legal Aid and was Legal Aid’s honoree at the 27th Annual Law Day Testimonial Dinner in 2008. She and her husband, Ben, are deliberate about their philanthropy, choosing organizations where they know the leadership, understand the strategy, and are familiar with the financial situation. In addition to traditional support as a Centennial Circle donor, Cooper has been sponsoring University of Minnesota Law students to work with Legal Aid as summer clerks since 2005.

“Legal Aid has always had inspiring, dedicated, talented lawyers who can efficiently make a difference,” says Cooper. “The organization strategically plans to do the most good on multiple fronts. As lawyers, we are in a wonderful position to recognize the good that lawyering can do, and how critical it is to improving lives of low-income people. Legal Aid is there all of the time, doing the work other lawyers care about but often can’t do themselves.”

1119-Kimmel-and-AtkinsonsKathy Kimmel & Bob Atkinson 

Tubman donors

Domestic abuse is a tragic reality for many families. In 1998, three organizations created the Safety Project, a program now housed within Tubman, in which volunteer lawyers provide legal representation to domestic abuse victims who are seeking orders for protection for themselves and their family members. One of the founding organizations was the former law firm of Rider Bennett Egan & Arundel, where Kathy Kimmel was working as a litigation attorney. Since the creation of the Safety Project, she has volunteered there as a pro bono attorney, providing legal representation to clients facing profound need and vulnerability. Recognizing that the success of the Safety Project requires the work of many people as well as financial resources, Kimmel has also made financial gifts to help ensure that victims of domestic violence have advocates who can help them in their time of need.

Kimmel has been friends with Bob Atkinson since their first days at law school in 1993. Recently she was joined by Bob and his wife, Barb, at the 2019 Tubman gala. At the event, the Atkinsons made a generous contribution to Tubman. Reflecting on their gift, they noted, “We feel good about supporting Tubman because we saw first-hand that the refuge Tubman offers to families experiencing trauma translates to hope, perseverance, success, and heart-felt joy.” 

1119-Kate-DeVries-SmithKate DeVries Smith

Volunteer Lawyers Network donor

Kate DeVries Smith has been a part of Volunteer Lawyers Network for 20 years. Though she works in patents as a founding partner of Pauly, DeVries Smith & Deffner, L.L.C., her pro bono passion is housing law—helping tenants to clear eviction records and hold landlords accountable for repairs.

DeVries Smith is one of VLN’s biggest financial supporters. In addition to her generous personal gifts, her firm is also a loyal VLN donor. She also frequently recruits friends, family, and colleagues to join her in giving, and brings fundraising opportunities to VLN via her professional memberships, including the Minnesota Intellectual Property Law Association.

 “As a board member and a volunteer,” she says, “I get to see the impact of VLN’s work on clients and volunteer attorneys, and it is impressive! By harnessing the power of volunteers, VLN provides a huge value to the community using my contribution. Also, my profession is law. I don’t feel good about the fact that the legal system is expensive and difficult to access to enforce basic rights and meet basic needs. I want to take significant steps to improve access to justice.”