VLN is stepping up in response to the end of the eviction moratorium. We need your help.

The Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) is looking for lawyers willing to staff initial appearance clinics in Hennepin, Ramsey, and Anoka counties. 

Sign up at: vlnmn.org/volunteer/housing

By Muria Kruger

The abrupt creation of the Minnesota eviction moratorium in response to the covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 and the subsequent phase-out of the moratorium from June 30 – October 12, 2021 has made landlord/tenant housing law a dynamic area of practice in the last 18 months. These rapid changes are also expected to create a steep influx in demand for eviction defense services throughout the fall and winter of 2021. And because the eviction moratorium was developed in part to protect our state’s most vulnerable renters, most of those needing help at the end of the moratorium will be low-income and in need of free legal services.

For over 50 years, Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) has been mobilizing the pro bono resources of the private bar to help meet the legal needs of low-income Minnesotans who otherwise would not be able to afford an attorney. Private bar volunteerism plays a particularly important role in supplementing/expanding the legal services that can be provided by the never-quite-adequately-funded local Legal Aid organizations and in responding to sudden needs of increased legal assistance. (Remember the lawyers in airports when sudden travel bans were announced?) 

Currently VLN volunteers, working in collaboration with local Legal Aid organizations, provide free legal assistance to every tenant, and some landlords, going through an eviction who qualify for (and desire) assistance in Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties. This is a point of pride—knowing that, in particular during the eviction moratorium, no eviction case has gone through court without at least the offer of free legal assistance to those who qualified.

These free legal services are provided through courthouse clinics (all via Zoom right now) that take place during the initial appearance calendars in eviction actions. The courthouse clinics are a partnership between VLN, Legal Aid, and other mediation and financial assistance organizations. The parties checking in for court are told of the services available. The parties who wish to use the services are then siphoned off to separate break-out rooms to meet with a lawyer, financial aid worker, and/or to begin plans to work with a mediator to settle their case. Some courts even provide the possibility of a
seven-day continuance if a party wants to use a service and is unable to do so that day due to high demand or unworkable wait times.

Meeting the demand associated with the end of the moratorium will require greater engagement from pro bono lawyers. VLN, in particular, is looking for lawyers who are willing to staff initial appearance clinics in Hennepin, Ramsey, and Anoka counties. VLN understands that many lawyer volunteers may not have had experience in landlord/tenant law or litigation, and therefore will need training and oversight. So we have built out our website (www.vlnmn.org/volunteer/housing) to support volunteers with on-demand trainings, sample documents, and other practice resources. VLN’s housing program also has three staff attorneys who are on call to assist volunteers and available to shadow (or be shadowed by) new volunteers not quite ready to provide services on their own. VLN’s housing program further publishes a monthly newsletter with court and legal updates and has a monthly, live (via Zoom) “chat and chew” program in which a VLN staff attorney is available to answer questions and discuss legal updates in a group setting.

Finally, because VLN is currently focusing so many of its resources on responding to the dramatic surge in eviction cases, VLN’s housing program also needs help with its more regular work, which tend to be in areas particularly well-suited for new volunteers. Two such areas are staffing phone advice shifts (daily from 2-4 pm) and taking eviction expungement cases. For phone advice shifts, all materials are provided approximately 24 hours in advance of the shift so that the volunteer may review the legal issues and have a conversation with a VLN staff attorney prior to calling the client. Eviction expungement work is a full representation opportunity that is perfect for new volunteers. 

VLN is proud to work with individual corporations, law firms, or other organizations to discuss what type of volunteer experience is the best match for their lawyers’ skill sets and inclinations. And it’s not too late if you want to get involved with the end of the moratorium—phase out is ending October 12. It’s likely we’ll start to see the greatest volume of cases come through courts then. 

MURIA KRUGER is housing program manager and a resource attorney at Volunteer Lawyers Network.