Opening Statements

Mobile Justice: Minnesota law school takes pro bono work on the road


Wheels of justice

Photo courtesy of Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

In most parts of the country, recreational vehicles are typically used for leisure activities. But in Minnesota, a 20-year-old RV has been retrofitted for a new purpose: to house the Mobile Law Network, a traveling pro bono law office.

In September, Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul rolled out the 31-foot red RV, dubbed the “Wheels of Justice,” as a unique way to dispatch law students to areas beyond the Twin Cities.

Mitchell Hamline dean and president Mark Gordon came up with the idea for the mobile law office in July 2015. Gordon says he had been hearing concerns about legal needs throughout Minnesota, and he was looking for a way for students to help.

“I knew I wanted something mobile, because that was a way we could reach across the state,” says Gordon. “Some people suggested we use a bus; but frankly, we were looking to do this quickly and inexpensively, and I knew it was possible to get used RVs, and that it wouldn’t be too difficult to change one into a usable space.”

It took about $40,000 in donations to purchase and then transform the RV into a two-office space, with internet access and printing capabilities.

Administrators say they know of no other law school with a current RV-based traveling pro bono office. The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law launched a similar mobile office in 2008 but has since discontinued the program.

In October, in its inaugural trip as a law office, the Wheels of Justice RV took law students to Mankato, a small city south of Saint Paul. Law students, under the supervision of licensed attorneys, advised pro se clients on family law matters.

Administrators say the law school plans further journeys in the RV to provide other types of pro bono services, including helping individuals with criminal expungements. Peter Knapp, a law professor and director of Mitchell Hamline’s clinical program, says students are getting hands-on experience helping individuals to navigate the legal system.

“When it comes to understanding how the law really works, there’s nothing like meeting clients in the real world,” Knapp says.


Correction

In the print and initial online version of “Mobile Justice,” December, the photo credit should have read: courtesy of Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

The Journal regrets the error.


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