MJF was incorporated in 1982 by a group of University of Minnesota law students who were concerned about serving their communities. These visionary students believed that lawyers and law students have a special professional obligation to provide quality legal services to those who cannot afford legal representation. In addition, they were committed to improving the law school environment and the legal profession by calling attention to the need for legal services for low-income individuals and for creating pro bono opportunities for law students and lawyers.
That same year, MJF incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit and hired its first professional staff to oversee volunteer placements of law students under its first umbrella program for volunteers called the Pro Bono Projects. Another of its first programs, and one that continues today, was the Summer Fellowship Program, for which MJF sponsors paid fellowships in legal services offices over the summer. MJF also set up student chapters at each of the law schools.
During the academic year of 1998, MJF staff, law school professors and professionals from the legal services community developed Street Law, a program in which law students receive training in teaching to help youths understand their legal rights and obligations as well as the basic rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a democratic society.
In the fall of 1999, the Pro Bono Projects merged with the new collaborative Law School Public Service Program (LSPSP), a program which evolved from the MSBA’s Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged committee (LAD). The LAD committee had been charged with finding a means to meet the increasing need for pro bono programs. Out of this committee, a working group called Law School Initiatives (LSI) formed in 1993. LSI membership included law school professors, legal service providers, law firm pro bono coordinators, students, MJF staff, and members of the private bar. The group developed the model for a law school public service policy, recommending curriculum discussion of issues relating to low-income populations and their access to the legal system, course offerings targeting this issue, and opportunities for law-related public service as part of legal education. The resulting Law School Public Service Program prompted the hiring of MJF attorneys at Hamline University School of Law, the University of Minnesota Law School and William Mitchell College of Law to oversee volunteer recruitment and develop new placements.
Today, MJF continues to administer the Law School Public Service Program and the Summer Fellowship Program at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, the University of Minnesota Law School, and the University of St. Thomas School of Law. MJF links law students to opportunities throughout the legal services community.