FAQ's for Lawyers

How does Minnesota Legal Advice Online (MLAO) work?

MLAO is based on the walk-in clinic model where clients request brief advice and counsel about a specific civil legal issue from a volunteer lawyer. Lawyers provide information and basic legal advice without any expectation of long-term representation.

Users who meet eligibility criteria affirm the user agreement, create a username and password, post a request for legal advice information, and provide facts about their case that will help the lawyer answer the question. Users will be asked to select a category (such as "housing" or "family") that best describes their question. The lawyer may ask for additional information before responding to the user's request, but the user will have a choice to respond to that request or not. A user's name, county, opposing party information, and county of venue for open legal matters will be shared with the attorney. Users are informed that there is no guarantee that a question will be answered. If a question is not answered, the user will receive a response from the website administrator with referrals and a list of additional resources.

Lawyers who would like to participate must create a username and password, provide contact information and their attorney ID number, sign the lawyer use agreement, and request approval from the website administrator. Before the lawyer's account is activated, the website administrator checks to ensure the lawyer is licensed in Minnesota and is in good standing with the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board. Once a lawyer has been approved by the website administrator, the lawyer receives an email notification and can begin answering user questions.

Lawyers may log in at any time to review a list of user questions and select the one(s) they want to answer. Lawyers may use the categories provided by the user to help determine which questions they would like to answer. A lawyer will have the opportunity to read the full question before deciding to take it from the list and answer it. Once a lawyer takes a question from the list, the lawyer has 3 days to answer it. Once a lawyer takes a question, it is no longer visible to any other lawyer. If you are not able to answer a question after taking it, please contact the administrator at mlao@mnlegalservices.org to request the question be returned to the available questions queue.

Lawyers will be allowed to ask follow-up questions through the website if they need additional information in order to answer the user's question. The lawyer's name will be revealed to the user. The lawyer's contact information will not be shared with the user. Once a lawyer answers a question, the user will be asked to accept the answer or send a follow up question to the lawyer.

Lawyers will be able to view a log of questions they have answered.

What information does the client have about me?

Only your name will be visible to the client. You can provide them with your e-mail address or phone number if you wish, but please keep all communication regarding the question on the site. 

What type of relationship exists between the client and lawyer?

In the event a client submits a question and receives an answer from a lawyer, there will be a lawyer/client relationship formed between that client and the lawyer who responds. That relationship is limited in scope and duration and is considered short term legal services under Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct 6.5. The scope of representation will be limited to answering the legal question as presented by the client. The duration of the relationship lasts only as long as the question remains open and back and forth responses continue on the site. There is no expectation by either party that the lawyer will provide continuing representation in the matter.

Both the eligible users and lawyers consent to the limited nature of this relationship when they accept the terms of the use agreement. Eligible users and lawyers who do not accept the terms of the use agreement will not be allowed access to the site.

Any conversation or representation which occurs off of the site or after the question is closed would not be considered covered by the scope of the user agreements executed on the site.

There is no attorney/client relationship between the client and State Support.

How do lawyers check for conflicts of interest?

Because of the pro bono nature of the limited scope representation provided through MLAO, Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct 1.2(c), 1.7 and 6.5 apply to a lawyer's participation in MLAO. The only conflicts of interest that would preclude lawyer from answering a question for an eligible user of MLAO are conflicts of interest that the attorney actually knows at the time that they receive or answer a client's question. Because a lawyer is only precluded from answering a question if they know there is a conflict, the possibility exists and clients agree in advance, that a lawyer answering a question, or another lawyer with whom they practice in a firm, may be unknowingly representing other parties with an interest in the question.

The client name and opposing party name will be provided to the lawyer so that the lawyer can recognize known conflicts of interest. If, based on the information the client provides, the lawyer knows of a conflict of interest precluding them from answering then the lawyer should not take the question.

What about professional liability insurance coverage?

Volunteer lawyers who provide brief advice and counsel through this site will be covered by professional liability insurance maintained by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA). MMLA has a specific pro bono rider to its general organizational policy for this purpose. If an issue of malpractice arises, Legal Services State Support can trace each answered question back to the attorney who answered it. Legal Services State Support may have to contact lawyers participating in the program from time to time related to this insurance coverage. This coverage is only extended to the advice and communication provided to clients through the site. Any conversations or communication with the client that occur outside of the site would not be covered.

How does the site keep information confidential?

This site is designed to insure client privacy. The site is secure, has screening, and all questions and responses are password protected. Other than the client and lawyer involved, only the website administrator can view the conversation. Information available to the website administrator and the lawyer responding to a client request shall remain confidential, subject to the limitations of the Privacy/Confidentiality Policy. However, client requests for information and the response of the lawyers participating in MLAO may be maintained in a database for review in order to measure the effectiveness of the project. Steps will be taken to maintain the security of this database and it will only be utilized by the administrator but an absolute guarantee of security is not possible when using the internet and internet based systems.

All volunteer lawyers on the site are able to view available questions, including client names, opposing party names (where available), and the full text of the question. Once a lawyer takes a question, that conversation is only visible to the lawyer and the client. Clients can only view their own questions and the responses directed to them. Lawyers can only view their own responses to clients.

For each visitor to the Webpage the web server automatically recognizes only the consumer domain name. This is the information that is collected for statistical purposes.

Aggregate information is collected on the pages consumers access or visit on this website.

The information collected is used to improve the content of the webpage and is not shared with other organizations for commercial purposes. Information may be disclosed when legally required at the request of government authorities conducting an investigation, to verify or enforce compliance with the policies governing our website and applicable laws or to protect against misuses or unauthorized use of our website.

How are questions managed by the administrator?

The administrator generally reviews questions for appropriateness, referrals, and length of time on the site. Questions remain open on the site for three weeks minimum. If no lawyer has taken the question in that time, the administrator will provide referrals and close the question so clients are not waiting indefinitely for help.

Inappropriate questions include those asking about criminal matters and those that do not actually pose a question. Situations where a client is expressly seeking legal representation will receive a referral from the administrator and generally be closed if there is no additional question for which advice would be required.

An administrator may provide referrals in urgent situations, while leaving the question open for further lawyer advice.

How do I find questions I answered before?

You can view your old questions on the left side of the questions page. Click on a question to view the full back and forth. You can copy & paste responses to use again. Questions from the original site are archived here.

Entering Hours for CLE Credit

At the top of the site, you will see a button that says "Enter Hours." You can log your time here. On the menu under your name in the upper right corner, you can view the hours you have logged. The "your hours" function allows you to set a date range and export the data in csv for easy tracking. The site does not track you automatically, however - you must enter hours manually. 

How do I contact the administrator with a question?

If you have a question or run into a technical problem with the site, you may contact the administrator by emailing mlao@mnlegalservices.org.

How do I make a referral?

LawHelpMN.org has a Legal Directory that can be found here. Every county in Minnesota is covered by a legal aid organization and many other organizations operate statewide. You are able to enter the user's zip code or county and specific legal problem and find information on offices that can assist the user. You can also send a link to the LawHelpMN.org legal directory to the user through the website.

You can also visit the /otherlegalhelp page on this site.

All nonprofit organizations have different types of cases they take. Here is sample language to use when making a referral:

Based on our conversation, I think you should contact legal aid to see if they could help with your case. I can't promise they will take your case, but I think you should call and find out. The office is [name of office] and here is their phone number.

Where can I find information related to the question's substantive area of law?

ProJusticeMN is a website for Legal Aid and Pro Bono lawyers. The website has substantive resources for lawyers who are representing low-income clients or providing pro-bono services. The Law Library has resources related to every area of law that MLAO covers.

How do I change my e-mail address, password, or other information?

In the upper right corner of the website where your name appears (when you are logged in), there is a menu that appears from the down arrow. Select "your profile" which will take you to the profile page. You can change your password, or click the "edit" tab to change any of the other information in your profile.