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Delivering Life-Changing Legal Assistance to Tribal Communities Across Minnesota

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Photo of Kelsey Gunvalson
Photo of Kelsey Gunvalson, 2022 RSLC Student Fellow

This article was originally posted in January 2023. Kelsey Gunvalson, a 2022 Student Fellow in our Rural Summer Legal Corps and a current member of the Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee, shares how an Equal Justice Works Student Fellowship helped her to build legal skills outside the classroom. Kelsey was hosted by Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota Corporation. 

In 2022, I went back to my roots to serve the community I grew up in. Throughout my childhood, I saw how rural populations face a barrier in receiving proper legal representation. This affects not only individual lives but generates a systemic impact on the whole community. My Student Fellowship allowed me help address the justice gap through the Justice Bus; a mobile law office that enables lawyers to hold free legal clinics in rural and isolated communities. Because of the Justice Bus, I was able to help underserved people by connecting them with appropriate legal resources to yield actionable results. It was especially meaningful to see the relief on someone’s face after their voice was heard and knowing they have options.

My Student Fellowship allowed me help address the justice gap through the Justice Bus; a mobile law office that enables lawyers to hold free legal clinics in rural and isolated communities.

Kelsey Gunvalson /
2022 Student Fellow
Rural Summer Legal Corps

My time as a Student Fellow taught me so much— mainly that a successful civil legal aid attorney listens to the client without inserting their personal bias. It is an imperative for attorneys to give credence to their client’s story and to understand their perspective before educating them about legal options. In understanding a client’s perspective, it is important to be sensitive to the different cultural values among the community. In the area I served, 22% of the total population are indigenous, which demonstrated an importance in providing education and outreach on tribal lands.

Kelsey Gunvalson standing outside of the Justice Bus, a mobile method of delivering legal services to communities who otherwise don't have access to such resources.
Kelsey Gunvalson standing outside of the Justice Bus, a mobile method of delivering legal services to communities who otherwise don’t have access to such resources.

The highlight of my Rural Summer Legal Corps experience was taking the Justice Bus to pow wows which celebrate local tribal communities. Participating in legal clinics on local reservations strengthened my appreciation for tribal culture while bridging a connection with tribal legal services. By working with both legal aid and tribal attorneys, I was able to learn about the nuances of tribal law and jurisdictional complexities between different legal systems.

I would recommend the Rural Summer Legal Corps to law students who are looking for a way to make a material impact on people’s lives and to feel good about the work they do.

If you are interested in embarking on a summer of service like Kelsey, apply to the Rural Summer Legal Corps by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 13, 2024. For more information about program eligibility and requirements, please visit here.

By working with both legal aid and tribal attorneys, I was able to learn about the nuances of tribal law and jurisdictional complexities between different legal systems.

Kelsey Gunvalson /
2022 Student Fellow
Rural Summer Legal Corps

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow