Heald, Nan 2018

Last modified: 2021-02-23 04:30
Storyteller: Heald, Nan
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: 2018-11-02
Length: 1:05:00

Topics: Civil legal aid: General, Debt collection, Foreclosures, Landlord-tenant, Nonprofit management, Pro bono, Technology, and Veterans
Geo, US: ME and Rural
Lists:
Medium: Video
Collection:

NEJL I.D.: NEJL-009.000
Georgetown status: Add oral history
Georgetown notes:
Link to NEJL page:
NEJL AV link:

Video status: Large File
Video notes:

Transcript link: Transcript
Transcript status: DeleteMeSoon
Transcript notes:

Consortium status:
Consortium notes:

Excerpt:

Longtime Executive Director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine. Has guided innovative work on technology, veterans, foreclosures, debt collection and other issues.



Bibliographic citation:

Abstract:

Description

Bio note
Nan Heald is Executive Director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine since 1990. She runs Maine’s oldest and largest statewide legal services program, that serves more than 28,000 low-income individuals each year and hundreds of thousands who rely on Pine Tree websites for plain language explanations of the law. Liaison with federal, state and private funding sources, collective bargaining units, the private bar and other entities involved in the administration of justice.

Full text of transcript

Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with
Nan Heald
Conducted by Alan Houseman
Nov. 2, 2018

Alan Houseman:
This is an oral history of Nan Heald. She is the executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance. The interviewer is Alan Houseman for the National Equal Justice Library. This is Friday, November 2, 2018 in Houston, Texas.

Alan Houseman:
Nan, let’s begin with an overview of your background, where you grew up, went to high school and college and the jobs you held. Then we’ll come back and talk in more depth about some of them.

Nan Heald:
Sure, Alan. I grew in the north woods of Maine in the corner of the state between New Hampshire and Canada in a town with about 1,200 people year-round. A lot of folks came up in the summertime and went away. We were all sort of blue collar jobs.

Nan Heald:
I was an only child. Neither of my parents went to college and I wasn’t planning to go to college. In my junior year in high school, my best friend moved away and the guy that I had a crush on started a relationship with someone else. My father had been bugging me to go to a boarding school that he had attended because he had also grown up in this community and he couldn’t get to the high school in the 1920s. I agreed to go to the boarding school an hour and a half away. I got to that boarding school. To my shock and surprise, there were people from all over the country, from other countries in the world. A lot of them seemed to be planning to go to college. So, I decided to apply to college. I got in and away I went.

Nan Heald:
I went to Smith for undergrad. I got to the end of my junior year at Smith and had no idea what I was going to do. But I was a government major, so I decided to take the LSAT. I had spent my junior semester in Washington, DC and thought Washington was a really fun place to be. So I applied to law school in Washington, DC and ended up at George Washington University.

Nan Heald:
I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with my law degree. Because my family was certainly not wealthy, I was in school at a time when you could work an unlimited number of hours while you were in law school. So I worked 30 hours a week for the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was an agency that existed at that moment in time. It didn’t do a lot for my grades, but it was very good for my law school debt. When I graduated from law school, I was offered to work full-time at the ICC. I did that job for a year and a half or so. Federal agencies allowed you to do a detail to the US Attorney’s Office to see what that was like. That seemed like a good opportunity, so I tried that.

Nan Heald:
Then I decided it was time to start thinking about going back to Maine. The job that I was able to get going back to Maine was with an insurance defense firm. It was the job that I was offered, so I took that job. I was a terrible insurance defense attorney, but I moved back to Maine in 1983. That was just when pro bono was starting to get a lot of attention. We had a pro bono organization in Maine that was attached to Pine Tree, although I didn’t know it at the time, the Volunteer Lawyers Project. I had started taking pro bono cases from them. I appreciated that my pro bono cases were much more interesting to me than my insurance defense cases.

Nan Heald:
So, eventually I found my way to Pine Tree in 1985 as a staff attorney in the Native American Unit. Based in the Augusta office, my client was the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, which was the only one of the four tribes in Maine that had been left out of the Maine Indian Claim Settlement Act of 1980. LSC was providing funding that had allowed one of the smaller tribes, the Houlton Band of Maliseets, to be included in the settlement at the last minute with some input from a contract attorney and some historians. So, I started working on getting the Micmacs included, get federal recognition for them and get a settlement for them. I did that for five years at Pine Tree, working with anthropologists and with a law firm in DC that was providing support for the effort. We came within a whisker of having it happen in 1990. But at the last minute a congressman from Montana derailed it.

Nan Heald:
At that point, the executive director at Pine Tree had left. I had discovered at this point that I kind of enjoyed working on projects. So, I applied for the position of executive director and was hired in 1990. At that moment in time, we had about 65 people on staff. In 1991, the Micmac recognition bill finally went through, so that was a great, great source of satisfaction for me. Then I got preoccupied with being an executive director, which I’ve done for the last 28 years.

Alan Houseman:
You covered a little bit of this, but what factors would you say led you to ultimately go to Pine Tree, go to legal aid? You went through your history and maybe that explains it. But were there religious influences or family influences or mentor influences that led you?

Nan Heald:
None of those, Alan. None of those. It was really entirely, I was looking for a job that I thought I could do well and that I would get personal satisfaction out of. I think maybe the thing that was most influencing for me at the time was that when I had worked in the US Attorney’s Office, I really came to appreciate the value of working in a team with a lot of other people who were also working really hard, providing support to each other, being very collegial and very mission-focused. I didn’t have that at the Interstate Commerce Commission. I did not find that, for me at least, at the private law firm.

Nan Heald:
I saw it at Pine Tree. I was right about that. When I started working at Pine Tree, it was obviously after the Reagan cuts, so there were staffing changes that I was not aware of. But many of the people had been hired relatively recently. We were all about the same age. It was an incredibly creative and mission-focused place to be and that was really gratifying.

Alan Houseman:
You described a little bit your work with this particular tribe. Describe your work as a staff attorney. Then we’ll go to your executive director.

Nan Heald:
Well, it was at a moment in time when Pine Tree was slowly starting to diversify its funding. We had a grant at that moment in time to represent prisoners with civil legal issues. Because the Augusta office where I was based was close to the state prison, we ended up doing a lot of those cases. I ended up doing a lot of those cases, which I did not find particularly gratifying. But it was good experience to put me in court.

Nan Heald:
Pine Tree is a unionized program. I was a member of the attorney’s union. There had been a fair amount of transition in the role of executive director. The person who had hired me had left shortly after I joined Pine Tree to go work for a private law firm himself. He eventually went on to the court. The person they hired was someone who did not seem very engaged with the program. She had come from away. She had not been a legal aid attorney and she didn’t really seem to understand the work. So, that was frustrating for me and for my colleagues in the office. We spent a lot of time talking about that.

Nan Heald:
I also was slowly coming to appreciate, because of the work with the Micmacs, how members of Congress, Maine senators, had influence over the outcome of the work I was doing for the Micmacs. I also had gotten a bill through the state legislature on behalf of my clients, so I’d done a lot of work with the state legislature. Helping people understand why the goal that I was working on for the Micmacs was so important was also a very satisfying project on which to work. I think those also contributed to my sense that this was where I should be, going forward.

Alan Houseman:
So you became executive director. What I’d like you to do is describe your program and its various components. Just because I think it’s important for people to understand. And, obviously, describe some of your accomplishments and achievements at the program.

Alan Houseman:
When I joined Pine Tree as a staff attorney and when I became the director in 1990, we then had six offices. We’re a statewide program. We were, I think, one of the first statewide programs established with OEO funding that then became LSC funding. Pine Tree opened its doors in 1967. Its name came from the fact that, as I understand it, OEO did not like to have state names in the names of the legal aid programs. Since the Pine Tree is the state tree, we became Pine Tree Legal Assistance. So, the program had grown to its highest point, I think, around 1980. It had 81 staff. The Reagan cuts obviously impacted that significantly.

Nan Heald:
When I became the director, we still had the six office structure. We were pretty close to the minimum access goal of two attorneys for every 10,000 people in Maine. Maine, obviously, is a rural state. It is not a highly populous state. The travel distance from Portland, which is our largest city in the southern part of the state, to Presque Isle, which is where our northernmost office is, is a five-hour drive. Clearly, to be able to get to District Court, which is the trial court where most of our clients’ cases are heard, you have to have local offices to do that. So, we had evolved to these six offices that put most courts within about an hour drive of the office.

Nan Heald:
When I became the director, there had just been a legal needs study done by Senator Muskie. Well, it’s probably more fair to say a study of legal needs that involved public hearings and taking testimony from clients and others and a survey of general public. Senator Muskie’s report had highlighted that most clients getting service lived within 20 miles of the office, whether it was a Pine Tree office at that moment in time. The only other legal aid providers were Legal Services for the Elderly, which is a separate nonprofit in Maine, the clinic at the law school, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project, which was a pro bono project but part of Pine Tree at that moment in time.

Nan Heald:
So, we started doing more work on rural outreach to try and make sure that clients knew more about us in my early days as executive director. Do more training of client groups. Try to get our staff out of the offices and into the community. That was going really, really well and then the IOLTA funding crisis hit and we lost a lot of money. Within of three years of becoming director, I was laying people off. We laid off 10 people in 1993 because of funding cuts. And we ended up making the difficult decision to close our Lewiston office, which was about a 45-minute drive from Portland and Augusta. Theoretically, those clients could be served by those other two offices. We reduced our Machias office, which is in Downeast Maine, to one paralegal. That, I thought, was about as awful as it could get. Then Congress did the cuts in ’95 and we dropped down to a staff of 35 people, which I felt personally very responsible for. It was terrible. It was terrible.

Nan Heald:
So, I would say those first five years had no accomplishments that I can remember now. It was a very tough education in what it is to be thinking that good intentions will allow you to get through and then appreciating the limits of good intentions and the incredible power of money and the lack of money. I should say part of the reason we were so vulnerable is because the only funding we had was a United Way grant for domestic violence work in one city, in one county in the state. We had IOLTA funding, which had started in the late ’80s, and then started sputtering out, and the LSC funding. It just was not enough. The LSC funding was at that point supporting our basic grant, our pro bono project, our Native American Unit, which consistently was being staffed by one attorney to serve all four tribes.

Nan Heald:
We also had a Migrant Farmworker Unit that had also started in the late ’70s, because Maine then and now still had a large agricultural worker population that came into the state. In the ’80s and early ’90s, a significant portion of those clients were Native Americans from Canada that could come across the border under the Jay Treaty. They worked in the potato fields and they worked on the blueberry crop, which was in Downeast Maine. The migrant population started to change in the ’90s. It became more Hispanic. Native Americans were still coming over but the migrant population changed. We had enough funding for that project to have two attorneys and a paralegal for most of the ’90s until the funding cuts happened. That changed things.

Nan Heald:
But we were slowly able to rebuild that when LSC funding started to creep back up again. We were able to slowly regrow our Migrant Farmworker Services. We also then became responsible for all of New England. So, it was a bit of a trade-off there. We still had the Native American funding, but we started to get other grants. I have to say I was very enthusiastic about every grant that I thought I could get, without appreciating whether it would be valuable to our clients. Although, I think that actually worked well for us. We applied for Vistas in the late ’90s. That was one of the early funding sources. It turned out to be not good for a unionized program, because of the obvious tensions between people that were earning so much less and working more hours than those staff on the program. But it helped us start to grow our services again and be available to clients.

Nan Heald:
We spent a lot of time, I remember, very deliberately after the cuts in the ’90s, working hard not to publicize the lack of staff we had, but instead to make sure that the bad guys thought we still had lots of people to march into court and to defend our clients. Because, in a rural state, lots of bad things can happen to people. It was really important to have what appeared to be a physical presence, even if there was nothing behind the door.

Nan Heald:
We were also incredibly lucky that Hugh Calkins worked at Pine Tree. Hugh had been our litigation director. He became really fascinated with the potential of the internet and the way that that could transform information services for our clients. Because of Hugh, we were the first legal aid program in the country to launch a web site in April of ’96 with client education materials on it. Hugh and Kathleen Caldwell on our staff worked very closely to put up information as quickly as they could. That became an incredibly powerful tool for us to provide direct services and information to clients when we did not have a lot of staff.

Nan Heald:
Then we just started applying for grants. I remember applying for a grant with the IRS for a low-income taxpayer clinic, without any confidence that low-income people actually needed lawyers in tax problems. But it was money and I needed money. Then, lo and behold, low-income people all over needed help with the IRS and were facing problems. So, it made me very opportunistic in my approach in how to grow the program. If there was an opportunity, I was certainly going to apply for it.

Alan Houseman:
Let’s stick with technology. Hugh’s early work was important. But you’ve done some other things. You’ve become a sort of a clearinghouse on websites and various things, if I’m not mistaken.

Nan Heald:
A lot of it was, in the beginning, the path set by Hugh. In the ’93 cuts when we lost so many staff people, we got computers for all of our attorneys, because it was just a more efficient way to operate. We did the ptla.org website in 1996 and it immediately started getting a lot of traffic. We worked very closely with the Maine Judicial Branch in developing forms, so that attorneys could access forms on that website that would help them represent clients, both paying clients and pro bono clients, and help our staff represent clients. Then in 2000, the Department of Commerce had a — can’t remember the name of it — TOP, Technology Opportunity Program maybe?

Alan Houseman:
Yes.

Nan Heald:
Again, we applied for a grant to get videoconferencing in two of our offices, a courthouse, and a domestic violence shelter in order to help victims of domestic violence better access court protections and legal protections in their cases. I have to say the TOP program was fabulous because they were encouraging experimentation. They were not necessarily expecting success. But that grant was transforming for a program that had so many miles between our offices. We really were a six law firm program that happened to have paychecks written by the same employer. Suddenly, with videoconferencing, we could be talking to people between the Portland and Augusta office in a way that I just would not have appreciated how powerful that would be.

Nan Heald:
It also set the Maine court down the path of using videoconferencing in lots of different ways, although the original focus of the project, allowing domestic violence victims to interview in chambers from the shelter didn’t work at all, unfortunately. We started down the path of videoconferencing and that was right at the moment when LSC was launching its TIG program. So, we were eventually able to get some TIG funding to expand the videoconferencing to all of our six offices around the state, so that we could start having staff meetings with up to four offices at a time, which just seemed miraculous.

Nan Heald:
The TIG grants allowed us to build a clearinghouse web site linking all of the providers. By the time that that happened — which was, I want to say, 2002, 2004 — we had several other legal aid programs that had been created after the LSC restrictions in order to respond to client needs. So, we had a systemic advocacy group, Maine Equal Justice Project. We had immigration legal advocacy group, the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, in addition to legal services for the elderly and the clinic. And HelpMELaw was intended to provide one-stop shopping for all of those legal aid programs. That was a really interesting project to work on.

Nan Heald:
In 2004, we were able to get a congressional earmark to create a children’s law project because Maine did not have one and it needed one. That allowed us to create KIDS LEGAL as a web site for people with questions about education law, the rights of homeless students, what to wear to court if you’re a teenager, lots of different resources. That became very popular.

Nan Heald:
At that point, we were on a roll. In 2008, the 2nd District congressman from Maine, Mike Michaud, and I were at a bar picnic in Aroostook County, our northernmost county. He was at that point, I think, the chair of the House Committee on Veterans Health. He asked me if Pine Tree could do more to help veterans because he was seeing a lot of needs in the 2nd District, which is the rural part of Maine. I hadn’t really thought about it. I actually thought veterans had resources, that they had veterans’ service offices. Anyway, I went back, looked it up. I realized that there was a huge amount of stuff I didn’t know. I realized that there wasn’t really anything that existed to bridge the gap between the specialized laws and services that are available to veterans and the general civil protections that apply to all low-income people, including veterans.

Nan Heald:
That was the impetus to encourage LSC to fund a national website for folks with military service that became Stateside Legal in 2010. HelpMELaw has really sort of fallen off the radar at this moment in time. But we still have those three web sites that are incredibly popular. ptla.org, because it’s been around so long, gets a huge amount of traffic and gets traffic from all over the country, even though our current client technology innovator is doing their best to make sure that it all says Maine. Yet we get calls in my office from people from Texas and California and Florida who have read a piece of client ed on ptla.org and just want a lawyer to take their case. So, there’s no doubt in my mind that websites are reaching people in ways that are incredibly important. Making that information accessible at a fifth-grade reading level is also really, really important.

Nan Heald:
The technology just continues to evolve for us within the program. In 2015, our phone system was very old. I think it was 20 years old at that point. We decided we needed to get new phones. At the last minute, I decided to get video phones, without really thinking. They weren’t a lot more expensive and it seemed like they might be good. It was the best decision I probably made that year. I mean, the videoconferencing is great. But when you’re talking to a staff person and you can actually see their face and they can see your face, you are connected to them in a way that is incredibly powerful. Again, in a big, rural program, the videophones have been really fabulous.

Alan Houseman:
Now, can clients call with video? I’m not sure I understand the concept. Or is it just internal?

Nan Heald:
No, it’s just internal. If a client calls me, it’s going to be a regular phone system. It’s a voice over IP system and it only works within our program.

Alan Houseman:
That’s what I thought. But your videoconferencing, that’s between the offices.

Nan Heald:
That’s between offices and then we have experimented with things like Zoom that would allow people to be on a computer and Zoom into a meeting. Technology is also evolving, so we have until very recently been a file server. We’ve always had a very robust IT department. In 2000, we started operating our IT department as a resource for all of the legal aid providers in Maine. So, they would tie them on a pro rata basis to our provider network and our two IT people would provide support with case management and with hardware. That continues to the present. But things are now evolving to the point that our room full of file servers needs fly up into the cloud and we’re now in the process of making that change.

Alan Houseman:
Have you experimented with any videoconferencing of clients in hearings or courts, where they’re not physically there or anything like that?

Nan Heald:
We haven’t, Alan. To my knowledge, the Maine court continues to only use video for arraignments of people that they don’t want to have to bring from jail, prison. But the Social Security Administration for many years rented our videoconferencing system in our Presque Isle office in order to do Social Security hearings with clients in the Presque Isle office with their counsel or advocate and the Social Security hearing officer somewhere else. That worked really well for everybody because people didn’t have to travel. No one had to travel and weather could not interrupt the hearings. It brought Pine Tree a really nice stream of general funding for a long time until, I think, just this year Social Security got its own videoconferencing system. I think Bankruptcy Court is also using it for some trustee hearings, but we’re not doing a lot of that work. We’re not doing the Social Security work because pro bono attorneys and paid attorneys are available to do it and we’re not doing bankruptcies at the moment.

Alan Houseman:
This is your interview, but back in 1978, ’79, I did a study, called the 1007(h) study, which looked at five groups, one of which was veterans.

Nan Heald:
Yes. I have that study.

Alan Houseman:
That led to the Veterans Legal Services support services. But we couldn’t seem to make as big a dent as I thought we should in the field programs’ understanding. There was this large group of clients out there that had all kinds of needs. Some were, yes, veterans service needs and some were not. But they weren’t getting met as effectively as they should.

Nan Heald:
I actually read your study. You know, Pine Tree actually was one of the first programs in the country. I think we did an AFDC appeal in 1971 that we took to the 1st Circuit over the fact that military families whose husbands, typically, were being drafted and sent to Vietnam were then not considered deprived of a parent and eligible for AFDC benefits. So, we’ve always had a little bit of a foot in the door.

Nan Heald:
But again, and I think when there’s not enough people to represent everyone, it can be comforting to presume that there’s a Bureau for Veterans Services, there’s an American Legion, surely they’re taking care of that problem. I remember reading your report when I came back from talking to Mike Michaud and thinking, “Huh.” Then I talked to colleagues and realized that none of us knew anything about the VA benefit system. None of us knew anything about Servicemen’s Civil Relief Act, even though we were doing foreclosure work and even though there had actually been a foreclosure case in which the judge on his own motion had stopped the foreclosure because the defendant was serving in Iraq or Afghanistan at the time.

Nan Heald:
It was like lifting up a rug and realizing there was a whole city under there that I had no idea existed. So, that’s been really important for us and it’s been really of interest to me personally. There were so many kids when I grew up that went into the military because they’d dropped out of high school. They’d go into the military in order to get away from the north woods of Maine. I just had forgotten about them and their legal needs. So, it’s been good to be doing that work.

Alan Houseman:
Right. Is there anything more you want to say about Pine Tree before I go into some questions about the future of civil legal aid, and some other personal things about your awards and stuff?

Nan Heald:
Well, at this moment in time, Pine Tree is back to 60 people because of the diversifying of funding. A lot of it is domestic violence and sexual assault focused. That has allowed us to put people in every office in the state, and put us into courts on a regular basis and dealing with court clerks on a regular basis. A lot of the folks that have come to our program aren’t from Maine. They’ve come to Maine to work at Pine Tree and to do this work and they see our state through different eyes. That’s been really important for us, to have people who question and ask questions about why clerks do or don’t treat certain litigants in the same way and why judges do or don’t treat certain litigants in the same way and procedural issues.

Nan Heald:
There was a period of time, especially after the layoffs, when all of us were sort of the same generation of staff. We were getting older and older and older and Pine Tree was getting older and older and older. It’s been a source of great satisfaction to me now that half of our staff now are under the age of 40. That is really important in a statewide legal aid program, I think, to have all of those different perspectives, to have diversity in all the ways that diversity can express itself, both for the internal operations at Pine Tree and for our presence in the community. We have an amazing staff right now and I am confident that we will continue to push hard in all the different ways that we need to push hard going forward. Sometimes I think you can settle into what’s comfortable, because it’s easy and because you’re tired. Staff don’t allow that to happen, so that’s been really great for us.

Alan Houseman:
Great. You’ve been active nationally at some of the White House conferences. I know you have certainly some thoughts about the future of civil legal aid. What are your overall thoughts on pro bono, on technology, on the rule of full representation. You’ve done some very interesting, innovative things at Pine Tree, both around technology and other things we’ve talked about. What you would like to see happen in legal aid from a perspective of a large, rural program, and someone that’s been around a lot of these currents for a while?

Nan Heald:
First and foremost, I think full representation is essential. A few years ago, we set a goal in our program that a third of the cases we closed would be closed with full representation, because that’s where the outcomes happen. I mean, good or bad, that’s where legal representation can clearly make a difference for an individual. There’s no doubt in my mind that being in court on behalf of our clients trains judges, educates judges, to think about particular legal situations and to think about our clients differently. I don’t know if this is true in other states, but in our state, judges are nominated by the governor and approved by the legislature. In recent years, a lot of those judges come out of district attorney offices, law enforcement backgrounds.

Nan Heald:
A lot of them come with a presumption that, if you are low-income, you must owe the rent. You must owe the money in the debt collection. They never had any exposure to the civil legal system. We have to be in those courts to show them a different way of thinking about the case. Sometimes it takes awhile. But almost always, eventually, by going to court every time there’s a docket call for third-party debt collection or every time there’s a docket call for eviction or every time there’s a docket call for domestic violence protection from abuse, we can get those judges to understand their full responsibilities and to see the bigger picture of how the legal system should be operating. So, I think that’s the most important thing for any legal aid program to do. I think that that’s a really important thing for pro bono to focus on. I realize that it’s difficult and it certainly is difficult in a rural state to find lawyers.

Nan Heald:
Also in my state the practice of law has changed dramatically and it’s become much more money-driven. Small firms are struggling and solo practitioners are struggling. It’s tough to make ends meet. So, the wave of pro bono enthusiasm that existed when I first came back to Maine in whenever it was, ’82, ’83, that’s not there anymore. But we can persuade what passes for a big law firm in Maine to loan us their associates so that we can give them some litigation experience, which they won’t get from the firm. I think at this point, we need to think about what’s in it for them — what incentive — which will be different for different people. In Maine, for the firms in the what passes for cities in Maine, our ability to get their associates into court helps.

Nan Heald:
Veterans is another client population where 11% of Maine’s people have served in the military and that’s true for a lot of lawyers. So, a lot of lawyers will do pro bono for veterans that they won’t do for someone else. That gives us opportunity to provide services to that community. I think we have to have a much more diverse menu than I would have thought originally and think really strategically about it. So, that’s pro bono attorneys.

Nan Heald:
There’s a lot of talk now about the role of undergrads and law students, and I’m pretty interested in those ideas too. I go back to Becky Sandefur’s study in 2014 about what a low percentage of people realize that the problem they have is a legal problem. Because they don’t recognize it as a legal problem, they do nothing. I think that the idea that they’ve done in other states of using undergrads as navigators in the courts is a really interesting model. I think we have a lot of undergrads in Maine. We have three private colleges that have made a real commitment to public service as part of their mission as a college. A lot of those kids want to do something in the justice system. But we have to be creative in thinking about how to do that.

Nan Heald:
I think we have in the past made the mistake of letting people in the door and then telling them to sit in the corner until we have something really good for them to do, on the theory that we’re not paying them so it doesn’t matter if we waste their time. But I now think we could be leveraging those fresh eyes to see the problems that we grapple with every day differently and really inviting those undergrads to help us figure out how to make people realize their problems are legal and to look at our websites or to call us or talk to a local lawyer. Or to at least go to court and not default. I think there’s ways we can tap into those opportunities and we need to. We have to. We’re clearly never going to have enough funding to represent everybody. So, we have to find a way to get the whole community engaged.

Nan Heald:
I’m in a Rotary Club, which has been really good for me because it makes me talk to people who know nothing about my work and who aren’t lawyers, and learn about their work and figure out things to talk to them about. One of the really popular projects at my Rotary Club is reading to kids, reading picture books to kids in second grade. I think what we need to do is figure out a way to get adults to read the rights of tenants in Maine to other adults, so that everybody knows. Then when you’re in the grocery store and you overhear a conversation, you can turn around and say, “You know, actually, that’s a law that says your landlord can’t just put your stuff out on the porch and you should contact somebody about that.” I would love to see that kind of thing evolve over time, whether it’s pro bono or program or whatever you want to call it.

Alan Houseman:
That’s interesting. You’ve received some awards over the years and I wonder which one of those, there’s more than one, meant the most to you? We have your bio, so we have some of that.

Nan Heald:
Well, I mean, it would have to be the White House Champion of Change. President Obama wasn’t there. Eric Holder presented the award, but I felt a connection to that vision of the world and to my other colleagues who were honored at that event in a way that made me feel incredibly special and incredibly humble. So, yeah, that was pretty amazing. I think, yeah, I guess that’s all I can say about that [very emotional].

Alan Houseman:
Describe some of the other activities that you’ve done. The LSC Pro Bono Task Force, pretty obviously, but …

Nan Heald:
Well, I have the say for a long time I was very Maine-centric in my worldview and I would maybe meet with my colleagues in New England. But I didn’t see the real value in coming to NLADA until Hugh Calkins dragged me, eventually in the late ’90s. Then I woke up to the fact that actually you could learn a lot from people in other parts of the country. So, I started engaging more with people and that helped get me into a place where I had the opportunity to be involved with the LSC Pro Bono Task Force. There was an ABA effort around the same time, 2010, 2011. It was really, really helpful to appreciate both how other programs see the world of pro bono and the metrics you use. I’ve always been interested in metrics and in trying to figure out how you can compare apples to apples, which can be difficult in urban programs versus rural programs and LSC-funded programs versus non-LSC, and in pro bono. But those opportunities allowed me to sort of have measures and words to use in trying to draw comparisons and think about new approaches.

Nan Heald:
LSC started tapping me to participate in conversations around veterans legal services issues. We were one of the first programs in the country to get funding as a sub-grantee from the Supportive Services for Veterans Family grant, when that started in 2011. So, that allowed me to do some conversations in New England around veterans issues. So I started talking a lot about veterans issues on a national level. Then that pulled me into the ABA’s Veterans Legal Services Initiative Commission under President Linda Klein, which just wrapped up last August. That was a really interesting opportunity to talk with amazing people from all over the country, mostly private attorneys, about what’s working in different places and the challenges and the opportunities of trying to engage private lawyers in pro bono for veterans. I think it helped increase awareness of all of the different groups that are in this space. I think one of the big challenges with veterans, still, is all the silos. You only know about the thing in your own state or the program in your own state. Maybe you don’t know that the legal aid program in your state is doing pro bono for veterans. So, it just reinforced to me the sense that we all need to be doing a better job of building across disciplines. First, across disciplines in the sense of the private bar to legal aid.

Nan Heald:
But second, we’re also doing a medical-legal collaboration now focused on veterans at our VA Medical Center. That’s been just another reminder that training a new group of professionals in what the magic words that are related to legal problems, that debt is one of those magic words. If you can get doctors to understand that that’s a word that should make them make a referral, you’re going to get more referrals and people are going to be more aware of their legal problems. So, the VLSI Commission gave us a chance to tease out a lot of those ideas and think about best practices and think about ways to expand those connections going forward. I hope it will lead to more engagement in the future.

Alan Houseman:
You’ve been also very involved with Maine court initiatives around Access to Justice. Talk a little bit about that.

Nan Heald:
Well, I was very involved in those issues in the ’90s. Our Access to Justice Commission formed in the wake of the cuts and was led by an incredible federal court judge, Frank Coffin on the 1st Circuit, who actually gave the speech encouraging the Maine State Bar Association to approve the creation of Pine Tree in 1966. So, he had very deep roots in our program’s history. He was an amazing, amazing individual. Our Chief Justice at the time, Dan Wathen, also, they marched in lockstep with one another on improving Access to Justice. That was very powerful. Things changed. My sense is that things have slowed in Maine, in terms of court initiatives related to Access to Justice. That perhaps is because the court itself is very underfunded relative to other courts and that’s where their focus is.

Nan Heald:
More recently, my major efforts with them in the last year have been focused around bias and harassment, primarily on the basis of gender within the courts. We’ve done a lot of work. That’s an issue where our chief justice and Justice Gorman, the two women on our State Law Court, both experienced these issues as young attorneys so they’re very acutely aware of how bad it is. So, we’ve had a lot of conversation in Maine over the last year on that issue, the bias and harassment, particularly of attorneys. But we, I think, have also agreed that we need to be concerned about how that impacts unrepresented individuals in the court. Of course, 75% of the folks in our civil proceedings in district court are unrepresented — at least one party is unrepresented. So, I’m pretty optimistic that we will end up with some good outcomes as a result of those conversations that will make the court system freer of bias and harassment going forward.

Alan Houseman:
Well, finally, do you have anything to add that we’ve not covered about both your history and about Pine Tree?

Nan Heald:
You know, Alan, every person is different. For me, having systemic plans has not been part of my approach. I might have a long list of things that I hope to accomplish in a year, but then I have always been quick to abandon my list when there was an opportunity to go in a different direction that I thought was of interest or had potential. We’re all different human beings. There’s not one obvious, clear, right way to find ways to make change happen for your program and your staff and your clients. It has to be a reflection of who you are as a person and how you can move the ball forward. I think that’s important to remember. Strategic planning has its place, but not for everyone. Being seat of the pants has its place and not for everyone. Both of them may be used at different moments in time to great effect.

Alan Houseman:
Okay. Well, thank you. This has been terrific. Yeah.
Alan Houseman:
This is an addendum to Nan Heald’s oral history to cover a few things we left out.

Nan Heald:
Thanks, Alan. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a little bit about the large categories of legal services that my program has handled over the years. When I joined Pine Tree in 1985, probably at least a third of our cases involved housing issues. Another third involved public benefits of all types. And then the other third was divided up among all the other law categories. We never have prioritized family law in particular. At least in our program, we always were concerned about the potential for conflicts. So, domestic violence was prioritized, but not general family law. We did some amazing advocacy, especially in the public benefits area in the ’80s and ’90s before the LSC cuts came and we were no longer allowed to do class actions and to do a lot of complex litigation of that type.

Nan Heald:
But opportunities led us in other directions. It turned out, I think, to be really impactful for our clients more recently. Right now, and probably for the last 20 years, about 50% of our cases have involved housing issues. This includes rental housing, always a standby, and mobile home housing issues. Starting in 2007, we actually started looking into the foreclosure issues. There was an agency in Maine that had done a report on predatory lending practices against low-income Maine homeowners. That prompted us to get a grant from HUD to do education and outreach on foreclosure. We came to appreciate the widespread problems that existed and were therefore poised to get funding in 2008 from the Institute for Foreclosure Legal Assistance to really ramp up advocacy for homeowners in Maine facing foreclosure. We were really off the starting point for that and it allowed us to be in a strong position to establish leadership and recognition in the state.

Nan Heald:
A lawyer named Tom Cox, who had been a bank lawyer in the ’70s and ’80s and then left the practice of law, came back in our doors to head up our pro bono project called Maine Attorneys Saving Homes in 2008. Tom became a national presence and was one of the lawyers involved in uncovering the robo-signing scandal that was going on with mortgage servicers. Our staff attorney, Chet Randall, was picked by the court to lead a commission on whether Maine should approach foreclosure cases in a different way in 2010. That led the Maine courts to establish a foreclosure diversion project and a mediation approach that also became very effective. We won a lot of complex foreclosure cases, which made us unpopular in some quarters, but was very satisfying in terms of being able to save homes for our clients. We had at one point, staff in every office that were doing some work on foreclosure. Then, after a few important decisions at our state Supreme Court, the foreclosure mortgage servicers had to change their practices. So, the volume of foreclosures dropped off and it has never really regained where it was.

Nan Heald:
But the lessons that we learned from foreclosure — that people would sue without having done all the proper paperwork, that people would sue without necessarily owning the debt that they were suing over, and that they made mistakes in who they picked to sue — helped one of our staff attorneys, Frank D’Alessandro, appreciate that the same things were happening in third-party debt collection. That started to increase exactly at the moment that foreclosures were starting to drop off. So, we had capacity. Most of these mortgage servicers were filing against our clients in small claims and most people were defaulting. But we started going to court as a lawyer-of-the-day and just holding ourselves out there to represent any defendant who needed representation in a small claims third-party debt collection case.

Nan Heald:
We started getting a lot of cases and we started winning all of those cases. It was always the case that the small claim debt buyer could not prove that they had served the right person, that they had owned the debt, that they had done the paperwork correctly. I think there was one year where we handled, with pro bono help, 500, 600 of those small claims cases around the state — almost all for clients that we met in court on the day of the hearing. We are still doing that work. We’re still doing foreclosure work today. We’re still doing the third-party debt collection work today.

Nan Heald:
Those experiences are now taking us down the path of looking at student loans, where we see again some of the same practices that are problematic and are impacting a lot of families in Maine, including veterans who are in law school on the GI Bill. So, it’s been interesting for us. We have, with small staff, a tremendous impact by sending lawyers to court and representing people that we meet in advance and that we meet on the day of and doing as much as we can for them. I’ll also say, I know that some programs don’t take this position, but we also take both private housing and subsidized housing evictions. There’s not a lot of housing subsidies in Maine. There are not a lot of vouchers. And there a lot of bad landlords who rent to our clients in private housing. So, at Pine Tree, we do a full range of landlord-tenant issues. Some of that ties into our fair housing advocacy work and housing discrimination work. But it is with the goal of keeping families from becoming homeless wherever we can avoid it and trying to call out the bad actors.

Nan Heald:
We’re doing a little bit of lead paint advocacy now with some foundation funding. That is, again, taking us down a new path in working with cities and with medical providers to address the horrific problem in rural states of lead paint poisoning and the impact on children. So, being open to new opportunities and areas of law where we haven’t practiced, issues that we haven’t practiced before, is also, I think, really important.

Alan Houseman:
Great.