Senior Leadership Team

SMRLS day-to-day operations are overseen by the Senior Leadership Team, made up of lead attorneys and finance, IT, and development department heads.

Jessie Nicholson, Esq.

Chief Executive Officer

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Chief Executive Officer

Jessie R. Nicholson, Esq. has led Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services as Chief Executive Officer since August 2007. Previously she held the positions of Deputy Executive Director, Senior Leadership Attorney, and Staff Attorney with the organization.

Ms. Nicholson is active in leadership of both the Minnesota State Bar Association and Ramsey County Bar Association. She currently sits on the MSBA's Assembly, Board of Governors, and Professionalism Committee and the RCBA's Diversity Committee. Other professional affiliations include: Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers; African American Project Directors Association for Legal Services Law Firm Executive Directors; and National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Ms. Nicholson is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. She has most recently been recognized with the MSBA Civil Litigation Section: Advocate Award (2014) and MN Black Women Lawyers Network Achievement Award (2013). She was also recently featured in the exhibit A Celebration of Women in Law, organized by the Minnesota Chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

Ms. Nicholson received her Juris Doctor from William Mitchell College of Law (1985).

Gary Hird, Esq.

Chief Operating Officer

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Chief Operating Officer

Gary M. Hird, Esq. has served as SMRLS' Chief Operating Officer since 2007. Gary started with SMRLS as a Managing Attorney in our Albert Lea office after 12 years as an attorney in private practice. Prior to becoming the Chief Operating Officer, he spent several years as the Senior Leadership Attorney for our 11 county southeast Region where he started the Intake Hotline covering SMRLS' 28 non-metro counties. Gary received his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School and his bachelor's degree from Gustavus Adolphus College.

Joan Johnson

Controller

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Controller

Joan E. Johnson, CPA, CGMA, is the Controller for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc. (SMRLS). Joan received her B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting from California State University, Sacramento. She completed coursework at University of Kansas in Lawrence, DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, University of Texas in San Antonio, and University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Joan is a member of the SMRLS Senior Leadership Team. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants (MNCPA).

Lawrence Nicol, Esq.

Senior Leadership Attorney: SW Region

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Senior Leadership Attorney: SW Region

Larry Nicol, Esq. is the Senior Leadership Attorney for the SMRLS southwest region where staff located in Mankato and Worthington represent clients in a 17 county area larger than the state of Massachusetts. Larry also leads the 28 county Greater Minnesota component of the SMRLS Volunteer Attorney Program. A 1979 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, Larry joined SMRLS in 1980 after a year as a VISTA attorney. He is a 2002 recipient of the MSBA's Bernard P. Becker Award in recognition of "dedicated service and outstanding achievements by legal services staff".

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Laura Jelinek, Esq.

Senior Leadership Attorney: Housing

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Senior Leadership Attorney: Housing

Laura Jelinek, Esq. is a Senior Leadership Attorney in Housing for SMRLS. Ms. Jelinek began her work as an Americorps/VISTA attorney in the Homeless Outreach Prevention and Education Project at SMRLS. She and two formerly homeless individuals conducted regular outreach at local shelters, drop in centers, domestic abuse shelters, transitional housing programs and food program sites. She represented hundreds of homeless families and disabled individuals with a variety of legal issues. In 1999 she became a staff attorney in the Housing Equality Law Project focusing on fair housing litigation. She litigates both federal and state discrimination claims on behalf of low income families concerning reasonable accommodations, sexual harassment in housing and racial harassment. She is responsible for coordination of firm-wide housing work at SMRLS.

Brian Lipford, Esq.

Senior Leadership Attorney: SE Region

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Senior Leadership Attorney: SE Region

Brian N. Lipford, Esq.  is the Senior Leadership Attorney responsible for supervising Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc. (SMRLS) southeast region. This region consists of three offices in Albert Lea, Rochester and Winona and covers the eleven counties in the southeastern most part of the state. In addition to his supervisory duties, Brian represents clients in orders for protection cases and a wide variety of housing law matters. Brian received his undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1997 and law degree from the University of Kansas in 2002. Prior to moving to Minnesota and joining SMRLS, Brian worked as an Assistant District Attorney in the Kansas City area.

Lolita Oorlog

Technology Manager

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Technology Manager

Lolita Oorlog serves as Technology Manager for Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc. (SMRLS). Lolita received her Bachelor's Degree in Law Enforcement, Political Science and Business Law in 1994 from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

She has worked at SMRLS in Information Technology for over twenty years, both in direct hands-on and in management roles. Lolita is responsible for directing technology initiatives for the firm. She oversees networking, PC support, wide area networks, security, and telecommunications.

SMRLS' offices throughout Minnesota are connected through a wide area network consisting of firewalls, file servers, data backup, VoIP telephone communications system, and video conferencing.

Steve Wolfe, Esq.

Senior Leadership Attorney: East Metro

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Senior Leadership Attorney: East Metro

Steve Wolfe, Esq. is the SMRLS Senior Leadership Attorney in charge of legal work and daily operations in the downtown St. Paul office serving the SMRLS metropolitan area. Steve graduated with a Business Administration degree from St. John's University in Minnesota in 1975, and a J.D. cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1978. Steve supervises SMRLS' metropolitan area Senior Law Project and its metropolitan Volunteer Attorney Program.

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