Vacating Default Judgments in Hennepin County Conciliation Court

Volunteer attorneys who do not normally practice in Conciliation Court may be unaware that there are two different processes for vacating default judgments entered in Hennepin County Conciliation Court, depending on the amount of time that has passed since entry of the default judgment. This month’s tip provides step-by-step suggestions for how to draft motions to vacate default judgments for each process.. Read more >>

Submitted by: Glen Drew, VLN Resource Attorney

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Attorney – Social Worker Collaborations

As more legal services clinics are co-located at social services agencies and schools, there are also greater opportunities for social workers and attorneys to collaborate to meet their client’s goals. While there are concerns raised with such collaborations, there are also tremendous benefits: for the client, the attorney and the social worker. January’s Tip of the Month focuses on the benefits of such collaborations and provides specific examples of when such collaborations are particularly helpful. This tip also identifies limitations and potential pitfalls of such collaborations and how they might be overcome. Read more >>

Submitted by: Marcy Harris and Muria Kruger

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New Tool to Learn about Working with People in Poverty

A pro bono representation is often a cross-cultural relationship between an attorney from middle class  and a client from generational poverty. An attorney’s failure to understand the challenges that people living in poverty face, and what strategies can overcome those challenges, can complicate, and maybe even derail, a pro bono representation.

To help address this, we have created an interactive educational “Working with Pro Bono Clients” wiki.   Topics include:

 * Seeing/Bridging Differences * Poverty 101 * Promoting Understanding *
* Empowerment *  Strategies for Success * Learn More *

Below is a screen shot of the first page of the wiki which provides information about the various ways to use the tool.  Please email [@[email protected] email=”[email protected]” display=”[email protected]”] with any suggestions or questions you may have.


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pdfdownload2 May Tip of the Month – New Tool to Learn about Working with People in Poverty

Best Practices – End of Representation Letters

It is best practice to send out closing letters at the end of your representation, including in your pro bono cases!  Here are some sample letters to use in VLN cases to conclude your representation when: 1) the case has concluded and 2) when you are withdrawing from representation.  These letters can be modified to use in your private practice.

Please note that Comment 4 to Rule 1.3 (MRPC) provides that, “Doubt about whether a client-lawyer relationship still exits should be clarified by the lawyer, preferably in writing, so that the client will not mistakenly suppose the lawyer is looking after the client’s affairs when the lawyer has ceased to do so” Just as with paying clients, Rule 1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation) requires you to withdraw if the representation in your pro bono case will result in violation of the MRPC or other law. It also permits you to withdraw in other situations (1.16 (a and b)), addresses the timing of the withdrawal (1.16 (d)), the need for court permission to withdraw (1.16 (c)), and the requirements for returning client files (1.16(d-g)).  The full version of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct may be found at


SAMPLE LETTER 1 – Termination of Representation – Case Concluded


Client Name
City, State, Zip

Re:  Termination of Representation

File No:_____________________

Dear [insert client name]

I am writing you today to inform you that my representation of you in connection with your [insert matter type] is now concluded.  I have completed my legal work on your case and I am closing your file.

Enclosed are the documents from your file which are being returned to you.  I suggest that you keep these legal documents and other important paperwork from your case in a safe place such as a fireproof box where you can easily find them.  Unless I hear from you to the contrary in writing, the file on this matter will destroyed based on the firm’s regular schedule.

There is some follow-up required in this matter, specifically _____________________ (e.g. changing beneficiaries on life insurance policies, changing your name with social security, your banks and on your driver’s license etc., recording the quit claim deed with the county recorder’s office etc.).  My firm will not be doing those tasks, and you will need to take the further action as appropriate.  You may call me if you still have questions in this regard.

It has been my pleasure to represent you; however I will not be working on your case any longer.  If you still need further legal assistance, please call Volunteer Lawyers Network again at 612.752.6677.  They will re-interview you to see if you are eligible for additional pro bono assistance.  Thank you.


[Attorney Signature}
Attorney Name


SAMPLE LETTER 2 – Termination of Representation (prior to case closing)


Client Name
City, State, Zip

Re:  Termination of Representation

Dear Client,

Client election to terminate:
This letter confirms that in accordance with your instructions, I will no longer be representing you in connection with your [insert matter type].  We will have no further attorney-client relationship.

Uncooperative/difficult client:
This is to inform you that per the terms of the Volunteer Lawyers Network representation agreement, I have decided to terminate my representation of you in connection with your [insert matter type].  Unfortunately, the difficulty we have experienced in (communicating with each other; keeping me notified of your contact information; agreeing upon an appropriate course of action; pursuing a claim against my advice or other) have led me to conclude that I can no longer
provide you with effective representation and as such I must withdraw as your attorney.

To the extent you need an attorney’s services; I encourage you to retain new counsel.  I will assist in the transition of any matters or files to you or your new attorney.  In the absence of any request, your file will be retained in accordance with firm policy.

You should be aware of the following important dates (list known statute of limitations, filing dates or other deadlines, court dates etc.).

I regret the circumstances which have necessitated this action, but wish you luck in the future.  If you have additional questions, please call Volunteer Lawyers Network at 612.752.6677.


Attorney signature

Advising Pro Bono Clients Against Pursuing Frivolous Claims

The Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) prohibit attorneys from filing frivolous claims or defenses. As a result, attorneys are required to counsel clients against pursing such claims. While money is not available as a means of influencing client decisions in pro bono cases, volunteer attorneys still have many tools with which to effectively advise clients against pursuing frivolous claims.” Here are some tips:

1. Set the stage. At the beginning of the representation, clearly review with the client:

  • Goals and objectives (and the extent to which they are attainable under applicable law)
  • What you will and will not do for them
  • Reasonable time frames for the various stages of litigation
  • How you will keep them informed of the status of the case
  • That he or she has the ultimate say on case objectives and settlement
  • That you have the ultimate say on case strategies

2. Establish in writing the legal issue with which you will be assisting the client. Clients often have more than one legal issue. Refer the client back to VLN for all other legal issues.

3. If a client’s request would violate a RPC, explain that you are unable to undertake the requested action and try to persuade the client to follow a meritorious claim.

4. If the client persists, you may need to withdraw. Paragraph 3 of the VLN Representation Agreement provides examples of situations under which you may withdraw, e.g.:

  • Rule 3.1 –Meritorious Claims and Contentions. (Paragraph 3G of the VLN Representation Agreement provides that you may withdraw if you conclude that there is very little chance of winning the case but the client insists on pursuing his or her claim.)
  • Rule 3.3 – Candor Towards the Tribunal. (Paragraph 3A of the VLN Representation Agreement provides that you may withdraw if the client has not told the truth.)
  • Rule 4.4 – Respect for Rights of Third Persons. (Paragraph 3D provides that you may withdraw if lawyer ethics prohibited you from continuing to represent the client.)

5. Empower your client. Explain the options and consequences. Your client may have goals that you would not. As long as they do not require you to violate the RPC, Rule 3.1 requires you to advocate with due diligence. Beware the tendency to second-guess your pro bono clients’ goals or to equate lack of money with an inability to know what is best for oneself.
Bottom line: just as with paying clients, Rule 1.16 (Declining or Terminating Representation) requires you to withdraw if the representation will result in violation of the RPC or other law. It also permits you to withdraw in many other situations. This provides you with some leverage to influence your pro bono client to not pursue a frivolous claim.


Submitted by Julie E. Bennett, Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility