In July of 2021, Legal Aid welcomed Micaela Schuneman as the new Deputy Director of the Minneapolis office. Schuneman was formerly the Director of Refugee Services at the International Institute of Minnesota, a Case Placement Coordinator with the Volunteer Lawyers Network, and an attorney at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. Schuneman studied journalism and documentary filmmaking, and has worked as a freelance documentary filmmaker in New York City. Valuing, assisting people, and listening to their stories has been a common thread throughout Schuneman’s career.
After a couple of months with Legal Aid, she sat down with us to answer a few questions.
What drew you to this position at Legal Aid?
What drew me to Legal Aid is the focus on providing access to justice for underserved communities and working with people who may not have access to or fully understand how the legal system works. I’m excited by the kind of cutting-edge work that Legal Aid does, like the community clinic model where we partner with other organizations, bringing legal services to a place that clients already know and trust.
As Deputy Director, you’ll have a say in the directions Legal aid takes. What’s exciting to you, what are you hoping to do?
One thing I find exciting about this role is the prospect of being able to help identify and meet needs that are not being met. Working with the big picture means fully understanding the local communities. Who haven’t we reached? Who is having trouble accessing services? How do we find them, and develop relationships? I hope to find answers to these questions, while continuing to foster the projects that are already successful.
What have you learned that you want to be sure is woven into your advocacy work at Legal Aid?
I’m very interested in people and their stories. Behind each problem is a unique person in a tough spot. You never want to forget that you’re here to help a real person. Through each of my different roles in legal work, I’ve always tried to carry with me the need to make a difference on the individual level. Then we can expand that individual help to the big picture level as much as possible.
What’s the most important thing for the Legal Aid community to know about you?
My journey to this role comes through stories. I was a storyteller first. When I worked as a legal secretary, I was deeply interested in the clients’ backgrounds and stories. Everyone is so unique, and I carry that interest with me through each of my roles in the legal profession.
My mom remembers the law student who helped my grandfather get his green card. I heard about it all through my childhood, because the whole family loves to talk about that law student and how she made this huge difference in our lives. I always have that story in my head when I think about immigration law and what a difference it made in my family’s story. It’s a wonderful thing, to be able to play that role in someone’s life, in any way we can.