Courts & the Law
The legal system is complex, and it can be daunting for people without legal training to navigate the legal system on their own. The Minnesota Judicial Branch has a Self-Help Center online with information, forms and answers to common legal problems that present themselves to Minnesota citizens. To visit the Judicial Branch’s Self-Help Center, for more information.
Finding an Attorney
The legal system covers many different topics. Attorneys who have experience in one field may have no experience in another field. When possible, it is best to hire an attorney with relevant experience in the area of law in which you need representation. In some cases, word of mouth may help you find a reputable, skilled attorney. If family, friends or co-workers have hired an attorney for a similar reason, you may wish to ask them for recommendations. You may also wish to check with the Minnesota State Bar Association or local bar associations.
Hiring an Attorney
When you find an attorney that you want to hire, it is important to have a clear understanding of the scope of the attorney’s representation and discuss how the attorney plans to do his or her job for you. If at any point you are unclear on what the attorney is doing, ask for clarification. Because there are different ways to pay an attorney (e.g. hourly rate, flat fee, contingency fee, etc.), it is also important to make sure you have reached a clear agreement—in writing—about how the attorney will be paid and the fees and costs to be charged. For more information on hiring and finding an attorney, see our flyer Hiring an Attorney.
Conciliation court, sometimes referred to as “small claims court,” is available to help people recover sums of money without having to hire an attorney. Conciliation court rules are generally simple and informal, and the cost of filing in conciliation court is low. The maximum amount people may recover through conciliation court is $15,000 ($4,000 maximum for consumer credit transactions). For more information on conciliation court, see our handbook Conciliation Court: A User's Guide to Small Claims Court.
Legal Aid attorneys work in all regions of the state and provide free legal representation to people with limited income and assets. Not everybody qualifies for free legal work from Legal Services. To find out if you may qualify for free services from Legal Services, contact the following groups:
Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services
St. Paul Central Office
400 Alliance Bank Building
55 East 5th Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 222-9823 or (888) 575-2954
Central Minnesota Legal Services
430 First Avenue North, Suite 359
Minneapolis, MN 55401
People who have been charged with a crime may be entitled to the services of a public defender, who provides legal representation to indigent defendants in criminal cases. Minnesota public defenders are coordinated and funded by the Board of Public Defense. For more information regarding public defenders at the state level, visit the Board of Public Defense’s website. At the federal level, the Federal Defender provides representation to indigent criminal defendants charged with federal crimes.
Attorneys licensed in Minnesota must adhere to certain ethical standards. The Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility is the state agency with authority to investigate and handle complaints of ethical misconduct by attorneys. If you believe that an attorney’s misconduct warrants an investigation, you may contact the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility as follows:
Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility
1500 Landmark Towers
345 St. Peter Street
St. Paul, MN 55102
(651) 296-3952 or (800) 657-3601
People sometimes have a dispute with their attorney after-the-fact about the appropriateness of the fees that were billed. District bar associations maintain fee arbitration panels to hear and resolve such disputes. For more information about fee arbitration panels in your region of the state, contact the Minnesota State Bar Association by phone at (800) 882-6722 or visit its website www.mnbar.org.
If you are having trouble resolving a problem on your own with a particular organization, we want to hear from you. Please remember that our Office is not authorized to give legal advice to or act on behalf of individual citizens in private legal matters (e.g. wills, child support, divorce, criminal proceedings, etc.). You may call us at (651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Calling Area) or (800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities), or submit a Consumer Assistance Request Form or Fraud Report Form to:
Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Calling Area)
(800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities)
TTY: (651) 297-7206 or TTY: (800) 366-4812
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office offers the following materials, which are designed to provide information to Minnesotans on topics related to court and the law: