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Ask an attorney in Lincoln Park

Community Action Duluth is partnering with the Volunteer Attorney Program to bring free legal advice to the community once a month in CAD’s Lincoln Park center.

“We already have an ‘Ask an Attorney’ clinic at the St. Louis County courthouse here in Duluth. But just going to the courthouse can be a bit intimidating to folks,” said VAP pro bono coordinator Erica LeMay Backstrom. “So having the option to go somewhere they’re already comfortable is something we’d like to be able to offer to them.”

Normally, “Ask an Attorney” is an opportunity for individuals to privately sit down with an attorney to ask any civil legal matter for 15-20 minutes, typically during the noon hour, and receive free advice. The VAP recruits coordinates volunteer attorneys in 11 counties in Northeastern Minnesota to serve at these clinics in their respective county courthouses on a weekly basis.

“Often times we find that the 15 to 20 minutes can be a really effective use of their time and our volunteers’ time to feel like they’ve done something meaningful,” LeMay Backstrom said.

About four months ago, CAD and VAP teamed up create a pilot program to provide additional Ask an Attorney clinic once a month at CAD’s headquarters in the former Lincoln Park Elementary School, 2424 W. Fifth St.

Besides the change in location, this program has a few other differences. It’s walk-in only, normally held 2-4 p.m. and individuals have about 10 minutes with an attorney. If their question isn't answerable within the time allowed or issues can't be resolved within that time, then a follow-up appointment can be scheduled.

“In some cases it might be that they just need to be pointed to what they need to do, what the next step should be,” LeMay Backstrom said. “Sometimes they might have a court order that they’re not completely sure about. They might have been served paperwork and they don’t completely understand what that means.”

In other cases, the program also allows attorneys to find people who need further services that VAP can provide.

The clinic covers most topics under the civil law umbrella including divorce, custody, child support, eviction, HRA appeals, tenant rights, unemployment appeals, social security overpayments, criminal expungement, garnishment, bankruptcy, orders for protection, collection agency harassment, domestic abuse, and will and health care directives.

“Really any civil legal matter is fair game,” LeMay Backstrom said.

So far, LeMay Backstrom reports that the program has been fairly well attended. In February, she was the advisor present and had non-stop traffic from 2 p.m. to nearly 5:30 p.m.

“I think that it being a walk-in service makes it a bit more easier for people to come in. They might think, well I’m already in the area and drop in,” LeMay Backstrom said. “Plus parking can be easier here than downtown by the courthouse.”

The next two Ask an Attorney programs at Community Action Duluth will be 2-4 p.m. on April 18 and May 16.

If individuals wish attend a regular Ask an Attorney session at the Duluth courthouse, call the Volunteer Attorney Program at (218) 723-4005 during intake hours, 9 a.m to noon Monday through Friday. VAP will determine your eligibility and register you for the clinic that will best suit your circumstances. You must call to sign up to secure a spot at the clinics at the courthouse.

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