Working for clients in Housing and Immigration Law brings personal rewards
“This is the only job I ever wanted,” said Abbey Loesch, a 29-year-old attorney working in the Willmar office of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.
No one hoping to strike it rich in law practice would think twice about applying to Legal Aid. Yet, young attorneys from the top law schools in the country continue to choose a career in legal aid, which provides low or no cost legal representation to citizens who cannot afford to pay for legal services. The Millennial generation is famously civic-minded, with a 2006 survey released by Cone Inc. and AMP Insights finding that 61 percent of 13-to 25-year-olds felt personally responsible for making a difference in the world.
This statistic would resonate with Loesch, who attended law school specifically with Legal Aid on the mind.
Luke Grundman, a 29-year-old attorney working in the Minneapolis office of Legal Aid, echoed Abbey’s sentiment. He tried a few other civic organizations and volunteered his legal expertise at a few other places but kept coming back to Legal Aid as the place he wanted to work.
“What drew me to it was the idea that I am doing something for my client that only a lawyer can do,” Grundman said. “When you close a client’s file, you know that you actually accomplished something real. Something concrete.”
An internship with Judge Donovan Frank in St. Paul brought Legal Aid to Grundman’s attention. Donovan had an “immense respect for legal services,” he said, “And as soon as I started working there, I got hooked.”
Like Loesch, even before attending law school, Sarah Bronson knew she wanted to work for legal services. “If I was going to go through school and get a law degree, I knew I wanted to use it to help people,” she said. “That was very important to me.” After graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School, Bronson joined Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid in 2009, assisting clients with tax issues.
Loesch, Grundman and Bronson entered legal services in a difficult economy. Due to funding cuts, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid is struggling to meet the needs of clients. With 805,000 of Minnesotans living on incomes at or below 125 percent of poverty (for a family of four, that equates to a household income of $29,438 or less), and the number of people in poverty increasing every year, there is a growing gap between the need for legal services and funding for it. Demand for legal services has increased so steadily in the past five years that Legal Aid is able to help only one of every three who apply. From 2008 to 2010, the number of Minnesotans in poverty and eligible for civil legal services (CLS) increased by 20.6 percent. During the same period, CLS financial resources decreased by 16 percent.
Still, these numbers do not deter young attorneys like Grundman, Bronson and Loesch, who say they focus on meeting the needs of their clients, one case at a time.
“As our resources have decreased, our staff’s commitment to advocate for our clients has remained strong,” says Cathy Haukedhal, Executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid. “Our lawyers are as committed as ever to justice for all, and the work they do makes a real difference in the lives of our clients.”
Loesch recalled one memorable case where she worked with a married immigrant couple from Somalia, both of whom suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome from their experiences. As they applied for U.S. citizenship, she helped both apply for medical waivers, and then attended their citizenship interview alongside them.
“That case stood out because I knew my presence at the interview made them more confident,” Loesch said. “It was very apparent how important it is to have an attorney.”
While Loesch works primarily in immigration law helping the refugee population as well as children brought to the U.S. illegally who have grown up and graduated from high school in Minnesota, Grundman works in housing law. A current case involves helping his clients deal with is fraudulent “contract-for-deed” lending scheme.
“For six months, the young couple had lived in the house they thought they had bought and had put $10,000 into when they were notified the purchase was cancelled. I was in court last week to stop their eviction,” Grundman said.
Grundman spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day working on papers for the case, a fact he recounts with a smile. In the end, the couple was permitted to stay in their house.
Sarah Bronson works in tax law, and says working with individuals and families who are being audited, or who need help figuring out how to pay their taxes, helps keep money in the community and families in their homes.
The largest anti-poverty program in the country today is the Earned Income Tax Credit– a refundable federal income tax credit for working individuals and families with low-to-moderate incomes. Bronson said some of her work is helping to publicize the program, so that taxpayers can take advantage of it and thereby provide much needed income to support their families. “We do a lot of educating, including helping our clients understand how to choose a reputable tax preparer and showing them how to prevent problems that may result in an audit,” Bronson said. “If we can stop problems before they start, everyone in the community is richer for it.”
Despite long hours and low pay, Grundman, Bronson and Loesch consider themselves lucky to work for Legal Aid.
“It is an awesome, awesome privilege and opportunity to be able to do this work,” Loesch said. “I’ve been so fortunate to be able to afford this opportunity. It’s such a fantastic privilege to be able to use my legal skills to help people.”
This article was originally published at BePollen.com.