Summer 2016 Newsletter


Featured Partner: Minnesota Music Coalition

MJF is grateful for the partnership of the Minnesota Music Coalition. MMC is a statewide network for independent musicians who care about creating and sustaining a vibrant popular music community. Through education, communication, and advocacy, they create access to resources and professional development services.

As part of this important work, MMC offers legal clinics, which are opportunities for their members to meet with and ask questions of volunteer attorneys about a variety of legal topics. The legal issues include contracts, business entities, copyright/trademark, and tax.

MJF law student volunteers to assist the attorneys at the clinics with intake, research, filling out pro se forms, and other tasks as assigned. Several of the student volunteers are musicians, as are the attorneys who volunteered at the clinics.

The most recent clinic was part of MMC’s Fifth Annual Minnesota Music Summit. The Summit was a three-day festival and conference for artists, fans and music industry professionals. The festival featured workshops, industry panels, parties, performances and national guest speakers.

MJF and MMC also co-sponsored the Attractive Nuisance Tour, an annual benefit concert featuring bands which all include at least one lawyer. MMC’s Board President, Tony Mendoza, performed at the event. Proceeds from ANT support MJF’s Summer Clerkship Program, which allows law students to earn a stipend while working full time at legal service agency over the summer.

Please consider joining and supporting MMC at the MN Music Coalition Party on Thursday, June 30 from 5 to 9 pm at Summit Brewing, 910 Montreal Circle, St. Paul, MN. Enjoy live music, food truck grub and some of the finest local brews. Also, peruse some sweet silent auction items and learn about MMC’s summer events, including Nershfest and the Summit Backyard Bash. Thanks to Summit Brewing‘s support, 50% of all beer sales will benefit the MMC.

Free & all ages! Please see for more information.

Street Law

Street Law is a program of MJF in which law student volunteers teach legal rights, responsibilities and resources to middle school and high school students. Many of the classrooms where the students teach are in alternative learning centers and charter schools where many of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. During the spring of 2015, fifty law student volunteers participated in the program, teaching at sixteen schools.

The program begins with the students attending an intensive two-day training. The training covers substantive areas of law, as well as cultural competency training and guidance about how to plan a lesson plan and teach in an interactive and engaging way. The law students were also given access to an online collection of resources and lesson plan examples to prepare for teaching.

MJF and the students have been fortunate to have the assistance of volunteer attorneys to assist with teaching. The attorneys provided insight into areas of law which were very technical, such as immigration. It was also exciting for the classroom students to meet an attorney and learn about their career path.

As indicated by the students’ comments when evaluating their Street Law experience, the program provides them with a wonderful opportunity learn more about law by teaching it to others.

My favorite part was the interaction in the classroom with the students. They taught me just as much as I taught them if not more.

I had a great time getting to know my students and their culture. Teaching them basic legal knowledge was a rather rewarding experience.

The discussions that the students got most excited aboutjuvenile criminal law, police stops, family law, and landlord-tenant. Although those conversations were often hard, they were the most meaningful. I also loved when a student talked about wanting to become a judge after our class!

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Board member profile: Summra Shariff

Summra M. Shariff is an attorney at Robins Kaplan, LLP, where she works as the firm’s Pro Bono Coordinator. Summra first became involved with MJF while in law school, when she was awarded an MJF Summer Clerkship to work at the Minnesota AIDS Project during her 1L summer. “That experience opened many doors for me. In addition to gaining legal skills, that summer I became better integrated into the Minnesota community, especially as someone who moved here from California. Working for a diverse organization, I no longer felt like an outsider.” Summra graduated from the University of St. Thomas, and practiced as a legal services attorney for several years before joining Robins Kaplan LLP in 2013.

Summra currently serves on MJF’s Board of Directors, participating in its Executive and Fundraising committees. She enjoys working with her fellow board members to expand MJF’s reach and strengthen its mission. “Justice must reach and protect all members of our communities. And all lawyers have a responsibility to bring the light of the law to those who are farthest from access to justice. Through my board service, I hear about the amazing work MJF law students are doing in the all corners of the state. I am confident the experiences they gain through MJF will impact their legal careers, and hopefully encourage them to engage in more pro bono service.”

When asked about how MJF has impacted her growth as a lawyer, Summra responded, “I have a deeper appreciation of the larger legal services landscape. I can see how students, law schools, legal service organizations, law firms, and attorneys are all important to meet the needs of low-income Minnesotans. All stakeholders must work together to create more access to justice. I also have a better understanding for how funding for our legal service organization is critical to meeting the needs of low-income Minnesotans.”

In addition to serving on MJF’s Board, Summra serves on the Board of Directors for the Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the Housing Justice Center.

Student profile: Alissa Harrington

Alissa Harrington is a rising 3L at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. During the 2016-2017 school year, she will be the editor-in-chief of Cybaris®, an Intellectual Property Law Review at Mitchell Hamline. In keeping with her interests related to intellectual property, Alissa is a past volunteer at the Minnesota Music Coalition’s legal clinic for musicians. In explaining why she volunteered with the clinic, Alyssa says, “I come from a family of musicians and artists, so it was especially important to me to find ways I could use my law education to benefit those communities. The clinic allowed me to hear about what problems are facing local artists today, and see the type of assistance good attorneys can provide to allow artists to focus on art. It provided me with a model on how I could structure my pro bono time in the future, and allow me to chance to help out now.”

Alissa also volunteered with Street Law in Spring 2016. Alissa taught at Brooklyn Center High School with another Mitchell Hamline student. About the Street Law experience, Alissa shares the following: “My street law experience was phenomenal. We were in a special education classroom, where many of the students struggled with reading. We worked to remove the heavy reading portion from the Street Law presentations and creatively get across the same information. It was a challenge, but the kids made it completely worth the extra time. From the first day, the kids showed that they really got it. I also learned a lot by having to creatively explain the law. By not being able to rely on written exercises, we had to step up our verbal game and work on our analogies. It was great to see kids both learn important lessons for their own safety, and areas of the law that sparked their interests.”

Outside school, Alissa’s community involvement includes serving as the 2015-2017 board president of St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN). SPNN’s mission is to “empower people to use media and communications to better lives, use authentic voice and build common understanding.