In 1982, law students who were concerned about serving Minnesota's low-income and disadvantaged persons, founded MJF.
In 1982, law students who were concerned about serving Minnesota's low-income and disadvantaged persons, founded MJF. These visionary students believed that lawyers and law students have a special professional obligation to provide quality legal services to those who can not afford legal representation. Over the years, MJF's members have highlighted the needs for legal services for low-income individuals and for creating pro bono opportunities for law students and lawyers. MJF developed a broad vision in the mid-1980s as civil legal service providers were suffering massive cutbacks in federal funding. In response to this crisis, MJF created a Volunteer and Summer Clerkship Program, establishing the organization's commitment to provide law student assistance to public interest and pro bono attorneys working in the community.
The Law School Public Service Program, is a collaborative effort between the Minnesota State Bar Association, the four Minnesota law schools, and MJF to expand the existing campus-community collaboration in public service law. There is both a service component through which all law students are urged to perform fifty hours of law-related pro bono service while in law school, and a curriculum component through which poverty law issues are infused into the law school core curriculum. So far in 2011, MJF has filled 1,903 positions with law student volunteers and donated 53,000 hours serving the legal needs of 17,000 low income and homeless clients.
MJF's oldest program is its Summer Clerkship Program. Through this Program, MJF raises funds for summer stipends that allow law students to work with legal aid offices and other public interest organizations serving low-income, disadvantaged and under-represented Minnesotans. Through both of MJF's programs, participating law students help legal aid and volunteer lawyers serve eligible clients, including many who, because of program overload and lack of case priority, otherwise could not be served. The law students learn about the legal needs of eligible clients, develop the skills required to address those needs, and gain the legal experience they will need to perform pro bono legal work after they leave law school. In addition, many students' clerkship duties involve community education seminars. Students educate the public on government benefits, housing, SSI, family law, and other areas that impact low-income and disadvantaged persons.