100+ years of protecting rights and improving lives

For more than 100 years, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid has provided access to the legal system for Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens. With the support of thousands of Minnesotans like you, we’ve stood with them to defend their basic rights for safety, shelter, food, health care and education. Together, we are changing lives.

Legal Aid through the Years

1913: The Legal Aid Department opens for business on April 15, 1913.

1917: Legal Aid successfully advocates for creation of a Conciliation Court (also known as small claims court) in Minneapolis for matters not exceeding $50.

1925: Maynard Pirsig is Legal Aid’s first executive director, serving until 1931. Pirsig later served on the Minnesota Supreme Court and became dean of the University of Minnesota Law School.

1931: Legal Aid’s name changes from The Legal Aid Department to the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis.

1946: The board minutes note an increase of divorce and custody cases.

1947: The board minutes note an accute housing shortage, which results in an increase in Legal Aid’s housing work.

1966: The Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis receives its first federal funding grant for $42,030.


  • Paul Marino is named executive director after five years as a staff attorney, including his instrumental role in ensuring the passage of landmark Minnesota legislation to protect the rights of tenants. Marino served as executive director until 1974, when he became a professor at William Mitchell College of Law.
  • Legal Aid initiates litigation to enforce implementation of the In Forma Pauperis process, which waives court filing fees and some costs for people with low incomes.
  • Legal Aid files its first anti-discrimination lawsuit: Carter v. Gallagher, a federal class action challenging segregation in the Minneapolis Fire Department. Enforcement efforts went on for almost 20 years.

1972: Legal Aid files Welsch v. Likins, a federal class action successfully challenging the unacceptable living conditions and lack of treatment of people with intellectual disabilities in Minnesota’s state hospitals.

1973: Federal funding begins for Legal Aid’s Developmental Disability Law Project, now known as the Minnesota Disability Law Center. In 1980, Legal Aid is formally designated as the Protection & Advocacy organization in Minnesota for people with developmental disabilities. The designation was subsequently amended to add advocacy for people with mental illness and physical disabilities, among others.

1976: Legal Aid joins forces with St. Cloud Area Legal Services to open our St. Cloud office.

1977: The regional legal aid programs in Minnesota create the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP). LSAP advocates with the legislature and state agencies on the impact of existing and proposed laws and regulations on low-income and other vulnerable populations.

1978: Seymour Mansfield becomes executive director and chief legal counsel.

1979: Western Minnesota Legal Services (WMLS) is formed, later becoming our Willmar office.


  • The board approves creation of a separately incorporated funding arm called The Fund for the Legal Aid Society. (Now The Fund for Legal Aid.)
  • The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition is formed by the regional legal services programs that together provide comprehensive civil legal services to people with low incomes in all 87 Minnesota counties.

1981: Jerry Lane becomes executive director of MMLA.


  • Proposed restrictions on the use of federal Legal Services Corporation funds prompts the Minneapolis, St. Cloud, and Western organizations to create a new, non-LSC funded corporation, Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance (MMLA), although each organization retains its own board of directors. In 2012, the programs formally merge into one corporation with one board of directors.
  • The Fund for the Legal Aid Society holds its initial Law Day Testimonial Dinner, one of the largest fundraising events for MMLA. The event’s honoree was John Benson, Legal Aid’s first full-time attorney. Benson later co-founded Faegre & Benson, now Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP.

1983: Legal Aid files Coleman v. Block and Gamradt v. Block, successful class actions challenging the federal government’s foreclosure practices regarding family farms in Minnesota.

1986: Legal Aid files Murray and Houle v. Lyng, a class action challenging rules that reduced food stamps for low-income foster families. After losses in district court and before the Eighth Circuit, the USDA adopted regulations that increased food stamp payments to low-income foster families by $20 million a year.


  • Legal Aid brings Hollman v. Cisneros, a federal class action on behalf of a group of African American and Southeast Asian families, challenging historical patterns of race discrimination in the siting of public housing in Minneapolis. A consent decree in 1995 provided for the demolition and reconstruction of public housing, a community planning process, and new Section 8 vouchers to provide broader geographic choice and better living conditions for class members.
  • Legal Aid, working with private co-counsel, files Miller v. Colortyme, a state court class action on behalf of thousands of low-income consumers who entered “Rent to Own (RTO)” contracts to purchase goods at extremely high interest rates. The Minnesota Supreme Court held the contracts were subject to the caps on interest rates.
  • Working with private counsel, Legal Aid files Fogie v. Rent-A-Center, a federal class action challenging defendant’s RTO sales. The federal court held the contracts usurious, ordering refund of all payments of principal, interest and fees. In 1999, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s damage awards in excess of $30 million.

1994: Legal Aid objects to the settlement in Buchet v. ITT Financial Services, a federal class action, on the grounds that the settlement did not provide any money damages to the plaintiff class, but only provided coupons that could be used to make certain purchases – and half of the class members would not be eligible to use the coupons. The court rejected the settlement, and Legal Aid negotiated a new settlement providing for approximately $6.5 million for the plaintiff class.

1999: Legal Aid brings Yang v. Department of Human Services, successfully challenging the publication by DHS of the application for various low-income health care programs in English only, thus violating federal law requiring access to information in services in multiple languages.


  • Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center files Masterman v. Goodno, challenging the state’s plan for massive cuts to the Medicaid waiver program serving people with developmental disabilities. As a result, the state restored over $50 million to the waiver program and provided protection against future cuts.
  • Starting with Perish v. Allina-Abbott Northwestern, Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center brings and settles actions against eight major hospitals over the next few years, challenging their failure to provide American Sign Language interpreters for deaf patients. All of the cases settled with defendants agreeing to detailed, systemic corrective action.

2004: Legal Aid files Dahl v. Department of Human Services, successfully challenging a state Medical Assistance statute that allowed medical providers to refuse services to persons who couldn’t afford co-payments.

2009: Legal Aid files Brayton v. Pawlenty, challenging the governor’s use of the unallotment statute to balance the budget, which included elimination of the Special Diet Program used by low-income Minnesotans to meet medically required diet needs. The Minnesota Supreme Court held the governor’s action exceeded his authority, and the special diet funds were reinstated.


  • Long-time executive director Jerry Lane retires.
  • Cathy Haukedahl becomes MMLA’s first female executive director.

2013: Legal Aid enters its centennial year and begins its second century of service in the community.


  • Cathy Haukedahl retires after leading a successful effort during the 2017 legislative session to secure an increase in funding to support civil legal aid offices statewide.
  • Drew Schaffer becomes MMLA’s executive director.

2019: In the 2019 legislative session, MMLA’s Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP) secures the first increase in Minnesota family public assistance grants in over 30 years. In the same session, LSAP works with a coalition of elder justice-focused organizations to secure safety protections and due process protections for seniors and vulnerable adults in assisted living facilities.


  • After many years of service to MMLA, including his leadership of MMLA’s housing team and as executive director, Drew Schaffer leaves Legal Aid to continue his legal career.
  • Danielle Shelton-Walczak becomes MMLA’s executive director, and the organization’s first woman of color to lead the organization.


  • Legal Aid is awarded $1.138 million — the largest cash award in its history — on behalf of clients in the federal class action lawsuit Murphy et al. v. Harpstead. The represented class were people with disabilities living in group homes who had not been informed about nor given the opportunity to live in settings outside of those group homes.
  • Danielle Shelton-Walczak wraps her tenure as executive director, during which she led creation of the organization’s Strategic Racial Equity Action Plan and helped successfully advocate for legislative passage of historic salary increases for Legal Aid.

2024: Following a nationwide search, Milo Mumgaard becomes Legal Aid’s executive director.

Leadership History

  • 1913 – 1914: John Benson
  • 1914 – 1915: Henry K. Elder
  • 1919 – 1926: Melkeor Kjorlaug
  • 1926 – 1931: Maynard Pirsig
  • 1931 – 1938: Walter Finke
  • 1938 – 1946: Richard Bachelder
  • 1946 – 1952: Robert Holze
  • 1952 – 1961: Mayo Stiegler
  • 1961 – 1971: Harlan Smith
  • 1971 – 1974: Paul Marino
  • 1974 – 1978: Luther Granquist
  • 1978 – 1981: Seymour Mansfield
  • 1981 – 2011: Jeremy Lane
  • 2011 – 2017: Cathy Haukedahl
  • 2017 – 2021: Drew Schaffer
  • 2021 – 2023: Danielle Shelton-Walczak
  • 2024 – Present: Milo Mumgaard

Legal Aid Icon: Laurie Davison

Laurie Davison joined Legal Aid in 1977 as a staff attorney before moving to managing attorney and litigation director. On behalf of aging and disabled veterans, she won changes to federal veterans’ policy; she protected Native American children in adoption proceedings; and she used her compassion and legal prowess to stop discrimination in nursing homes. Davison’s advocacy also included arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Legal Aid clients. When she died in January 1997 at age 47, she was honored through the Laurie N. Davison Fund, which continues as Legal Aid’s primary endowment fund.