“The firm’s overall commitment to community service encompasses pro bono representation and participation in professional organizations.”
— Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A. Pro Bono Policy
In early 1990, Steve Tourek and Tom Boyd exchanged memoranda shaping and establishing Winthrop & Weinstine’s pro bono policy. Those early memoranda stated the firm’s pro bono policy was “best conveyed as a natural extension of the firm’s overall commitment to community service and professional responsibility.” The early policy further stated, “Winthrop & Weinstine has always greatly encouraged lawyers to be active and contributing members of the community and of its political, social, and religious institutions to the extent that their own conscience and values permit.”
In late 1991, the policy was formalized with the creation of the Pro Bono Committee at the request of John Knapp. Initial Committee members were Tom Boyd, Jon Hoganson, Laurie Knocke, and Catherine Dominguez. The original purpose of the committee was to:
1. Identify opportunities for pro bono involvement and encourage and publicize that involvement;
2. Review potential pro bono work for conflicts of interest;
3. Establish procedures for intake, file opening, and ongoing review of pro bono work; and
4. Assure appropriate recognition within the law firm and within the legal community of those attorneys involved in pro bono activities.
The Committee continues to fulfill these original responsibilities to promote and support pro bono work by the firm’s attorneys and staff.
LegalCORPS is a non-profit organization that uses volunteer attorneys to provide free transactional legal services to low-income owners of small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and low-income innovators in Minnesota. Founded in 2004, its mission is to expand access to the legal system – in the area of business law – to many who would otherwise be unable to afford legal services.
LegalCORPS provides a number of services including drop-in, brief advice business law clinics, full representation for transactional issues, and an inventor’s assistance program that provides Minnesota inventors with assistance in obtaining both provisional and non provisional patents.
Winthrop & Weinstine attorneys began volunteering at the drop-in, brief advice clinics three months after the first clinic opened in 2005. The firm’s participation has continued to grow and in 2011, 12 Winthrop & Weinstine attorneys and 4 summer associates volunteered to staff various clinics for LegalCORPS. Volunteering at a drop-in clinic provides attorneys with an opportunity to counsel clients on a wide variety of business issues. The typical LegalCORPS client seeks information on entity formation, basic contract questions, or real estate issues. Because the counseling sessions are limited to 30 minutes, volunteer attorneys are expected to provide general information and identify potential issues that may warrant ongoing representation.
Unemployment Compensation Pro Bono Appellate Program
For more than 10 years, Winthrop & Weinstine has coordinated a pro bono project that offers pro bono legal assistance to individuals in Minnesota who have been denied unemployment compensation benefits. This program was initiated by the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Appellate Practice Section in coordination with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The program helps find lawyers for individuals who have appealed their denial of benefits to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The firm coordinates a group of volunteer attorneys located in the Twin Cities, as well as in greater Minnesota, who review these cases and are willing to represent these pro se parties in their appeals. The volunteer lawyers file formal briefs and present oral arguments to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. This important project has been featured in an article entitled, “Minnesota’s Pro Bono Appellate Program: A Simple Approach that Achieves Important Objectives,” published by the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process at the University of Arkansas.
This program provides invaluable pro bono legal services to the parties seeking these benefits, who are typically poor and in dire need of these funds for their basic living needs. The program also enhances the manner in which the issues raised in these appeals are presented to the appellate court. Finally, these cases present particularly good opportunities for new lawyers to brief and argue cases to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Many of the firm’s associates, and even several of its summer associates, have gained tremendous experience handling these appeals.
Sew Much Comfort was organized in December 2004, and provides adaptive clothing at no cost to support the unique needs of injured service members from all branches of the military and national guard. Each week, many wounded military members arrive on United States soil for extensive medical treatment for bullet wounds, burns, head and limb injuries, and amputations and need adaptive clothing. Sew Much Comfort also supports many previously injured military personnel whose needs change during the recovery process. These injuries require medical equipment, prosthetics, and casts that are too bulky to fit under ordinary clothing or underwear. Without adaptive clothing, the only option is a hospital gown.
The adaptive clothing that Sew Much Comfort supplies has been designed with input from wounded and medical personnel. The clothing is adapted from either store-bought garments or sewn using custom-designed patterns. The wardrobe options continue to evolve as Sew Much Comfort strives to meet the needs of injured service members. This clothing gives the service members and medical personnel the ability to have ready access to their injuries utilizing the adaptive openings in Sew Much Comfort’s clothing. The adapted clothing allows injured service members to have their clothing appear the same as normal civilian attire; an attribute which helps facilitate a more natural and comfortable recovery.
Sew Much Comfort has been able to provide over 75,000 pieces of adaptive clothing and comfort accessories because of the generosity of volunteers that span the United States, Europe, and Canada. Volunteers remain the driving force behind its success, their continued dedication and effort in producing and delivering adaptive clothing enables Sew Much Comfort to continue to accomplish their mission. These volunteers are committed to aiding the recovery of injured service members and providing them with an added measure of comfort and dignity as they recover from their injuries and return to everyday life. Sew Much Comfort is the only organization providing adaptive clothing at no cost to wounded service members.
Winthrop & Weinstine is proud to be a long-time supporter of Sew Much Comfort. In 2005, when the organization was still in its infancy, the founders met with attorneys from our firm to discuss corporate and tax issues. We assisted by forming a non-profit corporation under Minnesota law and completing the IRS application for tax-exemption. Since this time, we have counseled the organization on intellectual property issues and provided general advice as they have grown from a small, Minnesota non-profit to a group with an international following.
Winthrop & Weinstine is committed to serving the community through pro bono activities. The program provides valuable service to clients in need of legal representation and varied experiences to attorneys at the firm.
Tom Boyd - Chair