Diane Galatowitsch had her first taste of helping people solve their legal problems when she received a job after college with a free legal assistance hotline in Louisiana set up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The service grew to assist people not just with disaster relief but a range of issues, including family law, housing and domestic violence. People seeking help in these situations can be overwhelmed and frustrated. Often, they’ve been passed between multiple agencies without anyone taking the time to understand their situation and point a way forward, Galatowitsch explained.
“One benefit of the hotline is that you have somebody specializing in intake, whose job is to listen,” she said.
After her experience in Louisiana, Galatowitsch returned to her hometown of St. Paul for law school, selecting Mitchell Hamline in part because of its strong self-help clinic. She was director of the clinic’s family law program last year. Th is fall, she became executive director of the whole operation, supervising 50-some students and overseeing free clinics every Saturday morning at the law school, where people can receive legal information from students – and legal advice from volunteer attorneys – on family law issues and criminal expungements.
“A lot of it is talking with people, helping them feel comfortable with the process and empowering them to move forward. Often, people will come in with completed forms, but they don’t know what to do next, or they just want some confirmation that they’re moving in the right direction and that everything is filled out correctly,” she said.
Also this fall, Galatowitsch is helping to recruit students for Mitchell Hamline’s newest eff ort to increase access to legal services: the Mobile Law Network, which includes a specially wrapped RV – nicknamed the “Wheels of Justice.” Th rough the Mobile Law Network, students will travel to clinics in greater Minnesota to partner with legal service agencies and assist local residents with expungements, family law issues, health care directives and more. Galatowitsch says she sees the new program as a chance to highlight the clinical work Mitchell Hamline is already doing in the community and also to support legal organizations around the state.
“It’s less about us coming in and saving the day and more about boosting the capacity of great organizations that already exist,” she said.
After graduating from Mitchell Hamline in May 2017, Galatowitsch will spend a year clerking for Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Margaret Chutich and then join the real estate and public finance group at Stinson Leonard Street, where she plans to participate in the firm’s robust and longstanding pro bono program through the Deinard Legal Clinic. Galatowitsch also works to achieve justice beyond providing individualized legal services. As the issue editor for Volume 43, Issue 1 of the Mitchell Hamline Law Review, she seeks to promote a dialogue with the local legal community about how to address systemic inequality in the Twin Cities. Moreover, she is working to advance tribal sovereignty in her work with the school’s Indian Law Impact Litigation Clinic.
“I am driven to think critically about laws and policies that continue to disenfranchise minorities and native communities in our state and country,” Galatowitsch said.