New program will expand legal paraprofessionals’ roles

STATEWIDE — The Minnesota Supreme Court has adopted court rule amendments authorizing the Legal Paraprofessional Pilot Project, effective March 1, 2021. Legal paraprofessionals, under the supervision of a Minnesota attorney, will be permitted to provide legal advice and, in some cases, represent a client in court in two legal areas: landlord-tenant disputes and certain family law disputes. The two-year pilot is intended to increase access to civil legal representation in case types where one or both parties typically appear without legal representation.

“The judicial branch mission calls for equal access for fair and timely resolution of cases,” said Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul C. Thissen. “The Legal Paraprofessional Pilot Project provides an opportunity for quality legal representation to Minnesotans who might not otherwise have access to it in important legal matters.”

In 2019, the Supreme Court established the Implementation Committee for the Proposed Legal Paraprofessional Pilot Project, which was co-chaired by Justice Thissen and Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge John R. Rodenberg, and included lawyers and paralegals from throughout Minnesota. The Committee was charged with evaluating areas of unmet civil legal needs and to define the structure and rules to establish the pilot. The committee actively sought input from licensed attorneys, district court judges, paralegal association members and the Minnesota State Bar Association. Recommendations for implementing and evaluating the pilot were included as part of a report filed with the Supreme Court in March 2020. In April, the court issued an order that included the report from the committee and invited public comment.

“I am grateful to the members of the committee for their commitment and dedication to developing a pilot that best serves those who need legal assistance, and the paralegals and supervising attorneys who will provide those services,” said Judge Rodenberg.

Legal paraprofessionals who wish to participate in the pilot must meet strict education, experience, and ethical requirements, including written agreements with licensed attorneys who will supervise their work. Eligible legal paraprofessionals will be able to provide advice and appear in court on behalf of tenants in housing disputes and eviction management proceedings in district courts in certain counties that have established a housing court or a dedicated calendar for landlord-tenant actions. They may also provide legal advice and appear in court in family law cases dealing with child support, parenting time disputes, paternity matters, and informal family court proceedings.

A standing committee will oversee implementation of the pilot and provide a report near its completion with recommendations on continuing, altering or stopping the pilot or permanently codifying the rules.

About the Minnesota Judiciary

The Minnesota Judicial Branch is made up of 10 judicial districts with 295 district court judgeships, 19 Court of Appeals judges, and seven Supreme Court justices. The Judicial Branch is governed by the Judicial Council, which is chaired by Lorie S. Gildea, Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Minnesota Judicial Branch is mandated by the Minnesota Constitution to resolve disputes promptly and without delay. In 2019, there were nearly 1.3 million cases filed in district courts in Minnesota. For more information, visit www.mncourts.gov.

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