Volunteer Lawyers Network Strategic Plan: July 1, 2009 – June 30, 2014
Purpose: This strategic Plan sets forth the goals and the strategies for achieving those goals
to guide the Board and staff of VLN in the operation of VLN through June 2014.
The Executive Director is charged with annually preparing a plan of action to
implement this Strategic Plan and the Secretary is charged with overseeing the
implementation and updating of the annual plans and this Strategic Plan.
Overview: The Strategic Plan starts with a statement of VLN’s mission followed by a
discussion of six key areas of focus identified by the Committee to achieve that
mission: (1) Legal Services, (2) Volunteers, (3) Personnel, (4) Governance, (5)
Finance, and (6) Relationships with Outside Entities. Within each of these areas
of focus, guiding principles and initiatives are set forth. The Plan concludes with
a section on implementation.
Mission: To promote access to justice and the administration of justice by providing legal
services to low-income people primarily in Hennepin County through volunteer
Tag Line: When using the VLN logo, it may also be followed by the tag line: Connecting
Clients in Need with Volunteer Lawyers.
I. Legal Services
A. Guiding Principles
1. High quality legal services to low-income persons is the core of VLN’s mission;
2. The goals of VLN should be consistent with the protection of basic human needs,
including but not limited to:
a. Shelter (including housing and real estate).
b. Sustenance (including employment (and unemployment compensation);
Bankruptcy (and letters to creditors); Debtor rights (including consumer civil
lawsuits and garnishment issues); Criminal Expungements; Tax; Administrative
Law (especially DHS reconsideration cases); Non-consumer tort defense; Spousal
Maintenance (advice only).
c. Safety (including OFPs/Restraining Orders; Marital Dissolutions).
d. Child custody (including Parental access/visitation; Adoption; Juvenile advice;
Establishment of Paternity).
3. On a regular basis VLN will continue to review these focus areas of law to determine if
other program areas should be added.
4. VLN shall use its best efforts to maximize client outcomes in all cases. The Clinics and
Quality Control Committee will regularly review available best practices literature and
implement best practices appropriate for VLN.
For example, in advice and brief service cases, implement procedures which help the
clients follow the lawyers’ advice and increase the client’s chance to have a successful
outcome. These include:
a. Provide written information to clients concerning their legal problem, e.g., generic
legal fact sheets.
b. Write clients notes or letters on the legal and factual analysis of their matter and
next steps the client should take.
c. Provide more brief service where appropriate, including making phone calls,
writing letters, getting information from agencies, assisting in filling out forms,
and other limited tasks which may help solve the client’s legal problem.
d. Develop protocols for identifying and addressing specific client limitations that
are associated with less favorable outcomes such as limited English proficiency,
inability to read and write, mental illness, etc.
e. Develop follow-up procedures to: a) provide the client with additional
information, or to get additional information from the client; and b) determine
whether client was able to follow the advice and whether a favorable outcome
These best practice standards and procedures should be included in new attorney trainings.
1. Level of Service – VLN will create internal procedures to effectuate guidelines below.
VLN seeks to assist as many clients as possible given the volunteer attorney time
available. When determining which service to provide a client (e.g., full representation,
brief services, legal advice), VLN shall consistently evaluate which service, as defined by
the Legal Services Advisory Commission, will most effectively and efficiently maximize
1a. Brief service by a volunteer attorney is preferred when it is sufficient to resolve
the client’s issue (e g., in those situations in which well-drafted pleadings can on
their own significantly affect the outcome of a case).
2b. Extended representation by a volunteer attorney is preferred when it is necessary
to protect a basic need. Some factors to consider in determining whether
representation should be provided include:
i. The extent to which full representation is necessary to maximize client
ii. The extent to which power imbalances would be likely to affect case
outcome, e.g., :
? The presence of an attorney on the other side of the case
? The complexity of the law related to the client’s issue
? The complexity of the procedures that the client must follow to
iii. The extent to which the individual is unlikely to be able to pursue the
matter without the assistance of an attorney due to language barriers,
mental or physical handicaps, mental illness, lack of understanding of the
legal system, etc.
iv. The extent to which the client, if able, has demonstrated a commitment to
participating in the litigation, as evidenced by return of completed
paperwork on a timely basis and/or payment of a nominal administrative
v. The timeliness of the client’s request for services and VLN’s ability to
find an attorney to assign to the client.
3c. Legal advice only serves an important function in VLN’s delivery of legal
services, including when:
i. It is an efficient and/or timely way to connect client and attorney
(especially in situations in which a client needs assistance immediately or
has access or transportation issues);
ii. The client receives legal advice about merits of the case (which intake
staff cannot do);
iii. The client does not qualify for other VLN services (because the case is not
within VLN’s areas of service or the client does not meet income or
residency guidelines); and
iv. VLN cannot provide the client with an attorney for whatever reason,
including when the client’s case does not have merit.
d. Legal referral services are an important service to the community and are
provided when, for whatever reason, a higher level of service is not possible.
(Definitions of legal services are in the end notes.)
2. Client Eligibility. A key part of VLN’s provision of effective legal services is to
determine how to serve those in the greatest need. A part of this determination includes
determining client income and asset eligibility so as to: serve as many people as possible;
not compete with the private bar; and not tax VLN resources.
Staff will, on an ongoing basis and pursuant to the supervision of the Executive
Committee, review eligibility guidelines to determine whether changes are appropriate.
The Executive Committee will make recommendations to the board of directors for final
3. Client Investment. Client participation is essential to maximize client outcomes. VLN staff will seek to establish client investment prior to connecting them with a volunteer
attorney in various ways, which may include asking clients to: get their paperwork to
VLN in advance; attend a class on their legal rights and VLN processes; make their own
copies of documents, and, in limited circumstances, pay small administrative fees.
A. Guiding Principles VLN is committed to providing its clients with excellent legal services and, whenever possible,
positive outcomes. While this relies in part on VLN internal procedures, it also depends on the
quantity and quality of the services the volunteers provide.
1. Recruiting. Under the direction of the Volunteer Committee, VLN staff will continue to
recruit new volunteers using best practices for volunteer recruiting, identifying and
addressing specific challenges that prevent attorneys from volunteering, and offering
quality trainings and mentor services to address attorney concerns about practicing in
areas of law new to them. The Volunteer Committee will establish annual recruiting
goals and develop strategies and promotional activities with VLN staff to achieve the
annual goals. New recruitment materials will be developed to reflect the core areas of
service as outlined in this plan.
2. Retention. Under the direction of the Volunteer Committee, VLN staff will continue to
implement volunteer retention strategies, including regular contact with existing
volunteers and volunteer recognition programs. The Volunteer Committee will review
existing retention programs with VLN staff on an ongoing basis and work to develop new
retention strategies and guidelines regarding deployment of VLN staff resources for
retention versus recruitment.
3. Trainings and Expectations. Under the direction of the Volunteer Committee, VLN staff
will provide clear expectations and adequate training and support to volunteer attorneys.
4. Review of Volunteers. Under the direction of the Clinics and Quality Control
Committee, and to monitor client experiences of our volunteer attorneys’ services, VLN
staff will conduct routine evaluations of services. In addition, VLN staff will report to the
Clinics and Quality Control Committee on at least an annual basis any client grievances
as well as their resolution. VLN staff will use positive client feedback for volunteer
retention as much as possible.
5. Best Practices. Under the oversight of the Clinics and Quality Control Committee, VLN
staff will keep abreast of best practices in the field and implement them appropriately.
The Clinics and Quality Control Committee will review available best practices studies
and make recommendations for VLN staff implementation. The Board of Directors will
review quarterly data reports, which show the numbers of services provided by level of
service and area of law, and will review the Clinics and Quality Control Committee’s
recommendations on an annual basis.
A. Guiding Principles VLN is committed to retaining high quality staff and as such aspires to provide competitive staff
compensation and incentives. VLN endorses appropriate oversight of non-attorney staff by
attorneys as provided by the ABA Guidelines for Pro Bono Programs (Standard 4.8).
Currently VLN has Family and Housing Law Resource Staff Attorneys. The focus of the staff
attorneys is to provide support to volunteers, not the direct provision of legal services.
1. Attorneys on Staff. VLN will strive to retain Resource Attorneys on staff and continue
the focus on volunteer support, not direct services, especially in critical areas of law.
Given the current client needs, VLN will explore the feasibility of hiring a Bankruptcy
and/or Civil Resource Attorney.
2. Development, Staff Compensation, Retention Strategy. The executive director will:
a. Propose to the executive committee a plan for executive director transition.
b. Consult with an efficiency expert and/or business analyst to review different
models that would assist VLN to do its work as efficiently as possible.
c. Within budget confines, routinely review other ways to reward employees and
d. Periodically, work with one or more board members to review the VLN employee
manual to ensure policies and procedures are in compliance with state and federal
laws and staff retention and compensation strategies meet best practices and
promote staff retention.
A. Guiding Principles
VLN seeks to comply with best practices as they relate to governance in order to bring the
highest quality services to clients as possible.
VLN’s Bylaws were revised in 2009 to achieve best practices and increased efficiencies by
? Specific directives to maintain a board composition of greater ethnic, gender and
? Establishment and enforcement of board meeting attendance standards;
? Restructuring of officers’ duties and terms to encourage healthy rotation of positions
and meaningful participation; and
? Establishment of a finance committee to increase the board’s oversight and
understanding of the organization’s financial situation.
1. The first fiscal year board meeting will include an annual board orientation as described
in Addendum B.
2. At each year’s executive committee annual retreat, the executive director will present a
proposed annual plan. This proposed annual plan shall be developed with staff input,
derived from the strategic plan and complementary to the budget, with specific
quantifiable goals including specific duties of the volunteers and the staff. The executive
committee shall approve a plan and present to the board at the first board meeting of each
3. The Executive Committee shall annually revisit the organization’s bylaws to evaluate
ongoing effectiveness of achieving board best practices.
4. Each of the VLN working committees will develop a charter, based on a uniform
5. Staff may propose the creation of new committees or other committee changes to the
Board of Directors for final approval based upon establishment of the demonstrated need
A. Guiding Principle The board, as well as appropriate committees of the board, will closely monitor the fiscal health
of the organization; it will do so in connection with preparing annual budgets; and it will
establish and maintain adequate reserves.
1. Finance Committee. As provided in the revised by-laws, VLN will create a standing
Finance Committee. The committee will include the treasurer, an outside financial expert,
staff members, and other interested board members. The committee will meet from
September to June of each fiscal year. The duties of this finance committee will include
a. Improve accessibility of VLN’s financial reports and facilitate the board’s
financial knowledge and understanding of the organization;
b. Establish a reasonable timeline by which the preliminary budget will be presented
to the Executive Committee and the final budget presented to the board for voting.
c. Participate in creating the annual budget and recommend priorities for the coming
d. Participate in coordination with the Executive Committee to develop a sequence
of steps (i.e., contingency plan) to be taken if income is under budget.
e. Provide recommendations as to whether and when VLN shall employ additional
fundraising staff (internal or external) and/or otherwise increase fundraising.
f. Review the annual audit before such time as the treasurer presents it to the board.
g. Establish a goal and implementation plan for VLN’s financial reserves.
2. Budget Narrative. The executive director will timely send board members the proposed
budget with: 1) a narrative document that describes the underlying assumptions of the
budget as well as deviations from the prior year; and 2) a “budget fundamentals sheet”
reminding people of some of the key budget provisions contained in the budget each year.
VI. Relationships with Outside Entities
A. Guiding Principles VLN staff time should primarily be used to further VLN’s commitment to providing its clients
with excellent legal services. VLN staff should, given priorities and resources, have appropriate
dialogue and collaboration with other organizations providing legal services to low income
persons, law firms and the Courts to improve the network of delivery of legal service to low
1. Considering current priorities and resources, staff will develop a plan for the appropriate
level of interaction with the legal services organizations, law firms and the courts for
review by the Executive Committee.
2. In developing its plan, staff will give priority to recruiting and developing lawyer and law
firm volunteers and support. Staff should be mindful of the findings of Supporting
Justice II, A Report on the Pro Bono Work of American’s Lawyers, American Bar
Association, 2009; including that training and CLE credit for pro bono are powerful
incentives to encourage greater pro bono activity.
1. The Executive Director will annually prepare a plan of action to implement the
objectives of the Strategic Plan.
2. The Secretary will oversee the implementation and updating of the annual plans and
the Strategic Plan. The Secretary will submit a report to the Executive Committee at
quarterly meetings and to the full board on at least a quarterly basis providing a status
? Are initiatives being met? If so, report on success;
? If not, why? Does staff have sufficient resources to achieve?
? Are the timelines being met? Do they need to be changed?
? Are the goals and initiatives still realistic? Are changes recommended?
? Should priorities be changed?
3. In June 2013, the Chair will appoint a new strategic planning committee to create the
strategic plan to guide VLN from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2019.
Approved and adopted by unanimous board vote on May 7, 2009.
Alysia Zens, BLN Board Chair 2008/09
1 Legal Services Advisory Commission defines Legal Advice: Contact between attorney and client where the attorney provides only legal advice to the client (e.g. the advocate reviewed the
relevant facts, interpreted the facts presented by the client, applied the law to the facts presented
and counseled the client concerning his or her legal problem). Advice Only service would
include legal advice clinics and legal advice hotlines where no follow up work is done on behalf
of the client.
2The Legal Services Advisory Commission defines Brief Service as: Advocate provides limited
services for client without participating in formal proceedings (e.g. letter or phone call to a third
party, or preparation of a routine legal document). Brief Service would include assisted pro se
clinics where forms are completed with the client, but the client is not represented in court.
3The Legal Services Advisory Commission defines Extended Representation as: Representation
or preparation for litigation (whether in court or an administrative tribunal) or extended
transactional representation. Examples include:
? Negotiated Settlement without Litigation – Counsel negotiated and reached an actual
settlement on behalf of a client without any court or administrative actions pending.
Should be reserved for cases in which the program conferred with another party to reach
a resolution of the client’s legal problem.
? Negotiated Settlement with Litigation – Counsel negotiated and reached an actual
settlement on behalf of a client while a court or formal administrative action was pending.
? Administrative Agency Decision – Counsel represented a client in an administrative
agency action that resulted in a case-dispositive decision by the administrative agency
after a hearing or other formal administrative process.
? Court Decision – Counsel represented a client in a proceeding that resulted in a case
dispositive decision by the court.
Extensive Service – Counsel undertook extensive research, preparation of complex legal
documents, extensive interaction with third parties on behalf of an eligible client, or extensive
on-going assistance to clients who are proceeding pro se. This would also include cases where
extensive work is done on behalf of a client, but the client withdraws from representation or
becomes income ineligible.
Strategic Planning Process As one of her first actions as 2008-2009 Board Chair, Alysia Zens appointed a committee to
undertake strategic planning.
She appointed Jonathan Bye (Partner, Lindquist & Vennum and VLN vice Chair) as the Chair of
the strategic planning committee and the following as members of that committee:
? Matt Boos (Shareholder, Fredrikson & Byron; VLN Chair 2006/07)
? Lawrence Buxbaum (Executive Director, Hennepin County Bar Association)
? Karen Canon (Associate General Counsel, U.S. Bank; VLN Chair 2003/04)
? Bricker Lavik (Senior Counsel, Trial Group and Director of Pro Bono Program,
Dorsey & Whitney; VLN Chair 1992/93)
? Fred Ojile (Managing Partner, Messinger & Ojile, PLLP; VLN Secretary 2008/09)
? Dan Tyson (Best & Flanagan, VLN Chair 1996/97)
? Alysia Zens (Dorsey & Whitney, VLN Chair 2008/09)
From July 2008 through April 2009, the Committee, both as a whole and as various
subcommittees, met on numerous occasions to consider VLN as it currently exists, where it
should be going over the next five years, and how it should get there. In doing so, the
Committee assessed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of VLN and sought the
input of representatives of its various constituencies, including current and former Board
members, current and former Executive Directors, executive officers of the Hennepin County
Bar Association and the Hennepin County Bar Foundation, law firm pro bono coordinators,
fundraising consultants, judges and other judicial personnel, representatives of other legal service
providers, and VLN staff.
VLN NEW BOARD MEMBER ORIENTATION
AND BOARD TRAINING PROCEDURE
? Upon nomination and confirmation of a new board member, an officer or previous board
member and VLN staff member (Executive Director or Assistant Director) shall meet with
said new member for approximately one hour to provide and review the following:
1. Board Member Manual;
2. VLN Mission Statement;
3. Fiduciary Duties of a Board Member;
5. Strategic Plan;
6. Annual Plan
7. Most Relevant Governance Policies (such as Conflict of Interest);
8. Financial Statement and Budget
? All new board members should be asked to attend the MAP for Nonprofits Board Boot Camp 1basic training session.
? Each initial board meeting of the new fiscal year (typically in August/September) shall be an
extended meeting held in the evening and will include the following:
1. Short Business Meeting
2. VLN Volunteer Orientation presentation 23. Customized Board Boot Camp or an alternate volunteer presentation
4. Board/Staff Mixer (if this is not feasible, arrangements should be made for times for
the board and staff to get acquainted)
? Officers or nominated officers are encouraged to attend the MAP for Nonprofits Advanced
Board Boot Camp or Board Chair Training.
? The Finance Committee shall participate in the free Financial Needs Assessment offered by
the Nonprofits Assistance Fund on an as needed basis.
? The Board of Directors shall consider participating in the Financial Clarity for Nonprofit 3Boards training also offered by the Nonprofits Assistance Fund.
1 This two hour session is offered a variety of dates and times (and webinar) at a cost of $35.00. 2 This is an onsite board training/workshop conducted by MAP for Nonprofits and usually costs $500-700. 3 Includes advance meeting with staff/treasurer, review of finances and onsite BOD training ($200).