Pro Bono For the Public Good

Feb 8, 2022

What is Pro Bono? Why is Pro Bono work so important to our community? Tracy Hightower-Henne and Deanna Pina are joined by Megan Moslander, who is the Chief of Development/External Relations for Legal Aid of Nebraska.  The lady lawyers talk about why their pro bono work is vital to our legal system and each of our individual rights.


Tracy Hightower-Henne: All right, so we are back and today we’re going to talk about pro bono work in general. And again with us today is Megan Moslander from Legal Aid of Nebraska. So, obviously, legal aid is a huge part of our pro bono work at HightowerReff Law and we have Deanna again. So thanks for listening to our podcast and I think this is a really important topic as our lawyer listeners get on board with the pro bono.

Deanna Piña: Yeah, I love pro bono.

Tracy: If you’re not already on board, right? So, the legal definition of pro bono wait, I don’t think it’s legal.

Deanna: The official.

Tracy: The Google definition of pro bono. There’s a couple of different ones. And I think pro bono is a Latin phrase. And specifically, it means for the public good. But when you dig deeper into that, it actually means the offering of free services. So, when we talk about pro bono in what HightowerReff law does, we’re talking about those things and services that we provide as attorneys where we don’t get paid.

And there’s as we were like preparing for the topic DNA and I were like, Yeah, and there’s this and this and this. And like, I think we really love doing pro bono work at high tariff law. And those are the things personally that keep me going.

Deanna: Yes, a hundred percent. I mean, that’s why I got this stupid degree in the first place.

Tracy: I thought you were going to say stupid job.

Deanna: Yeah, this, you know? No, but that’s why I got this whole dang license in the first place is to give back and to help as much as I can. Because, like Meghan has said before, the need is huge. And, you know, not being able to afford an attorney is such a prohibitive event. So, the more that we can do in our free time to actually improve the world, you know? You should do it.

Megan Moslander: Yes, and it doesn’t have to be twenty hours. I think sometimes you think about, “Oh, I’m going to do pro bono work,” or, “I’m going to do volunteer work for non-attorneys.” It doesn’t have to be a huge time sink, right? It can be two, three, four hours.

Deanna: Like a legal aid clinic.

Tracy: Yeah. There are so many opportunities for pro bono work at Legal Aid of Nebraska. And if you haven’t listened to our episode about Legal Aid of Nebraska, go back and listen to that and then go back and listen to this.

Deanna: Do it! Click all the links. Donate money. Donate time.

Tracy: And I think though, I want to point out here, if you all have seen the images and graphics for our podcast, which include all of our attorneys in superhero gear, that is truly what you know. When we talked about that and what Deanna just said, why I got the stupid degree is because also for me, it’s like I feel like it’s a superpower that we have as attorneys. You can use it wisely. Or you can use it for bad, right? Like, for evil, like in the Marvel Comics. So, you know, we believe that it is a way for us to do good in the community. So, I think we want to talk about some of the things that we do at Hightower Reff Law as pro bono. And Deanna, I want you to tell us some of the things that you do with that stupid degree.

Deanna: I do a lot, yes. With this freakin’ piece of paper, that I still haven’t framed yet. I’m not sure. Anyway, I know where it is. I think…

Tracy: Is it rolled up?

Deanna: It’s somewhere in my house.

Tracy: Mine had creases in it by the time I went to frame it and I was like, OK, well, this is what you get out, I guess. I don’t know.

Deanna: So I always promote, first and foremost, the free legal clinic that’s in South Omaha that is run by Pesek Law Office. It is for Spanish speakers. It’s located at twenty third and O at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, and it’s every Monday from seven p.m. to nine p.m. Sometimes there’s holiday, you know, pauses. But anyway, so that is one of the only, if not the only clinic that is available for people who speak Spanish. So go there and send people to us there. Let’s see. We also do a lot of the legal aid clinics. So Tracy and I talked about, in another episode, that you should all listen to the transfer on death date clinic. There’s also the lawyers and clean slate.

Megan: And then we have the transplant on death deeds, and the pro say divorce.

Deanna: Yes, the Pro say divorce clinic, Joy does those.

Megan: Name change?

Deanna: Name changes, yup.

Tracy: Which is so important for transgender folks, you know, to have their name be their actual name.

Deanna: Yeah, what they what they want them to be.

Megan: And something that’s important with that clinic is we raise funds, so we cover some of the fees. This is important because the fees can be very cost prohibitive, so we raise funds to cover some of those fees.

Tracy: And for those that are interested in any of our clinics, they can just check our website, yes, or follow us on social media and sign up.

Deanna: We also do high tariff law. A lot of us go to the lawyers in the city clinics that are put on by Heartland Family Service. And that’s kind of all kinds of different areas. So like when I went, I did some immigration. I had some family because those are, of course, my favorite things to do. Then there’s also the Volunteer Lawyers Project. I know that a lot of our attorneys take on those cases, like for the full term. But also, you know, I have done just a consultation with someone because she only spoke Spanish and I happened to speak some Spanish. I know just a little and I was able to help her. You know, it was just a consultation, but I prepared her for her protection order hearing and she ended up winning that hearing and being able to be protected from this man.

Tracy: It’s so amazing. That story.

Deanna: And she did it herself, you know, I just gave her the tools.

Tracy: So I think that that’s another thing that, you know, as attorneys, sometimes, like when we’re in social settings and people are like, “Oh, can I ask you a question?” And you’re like, “Seriously? You’re at a party right now.”

Deanna: “I’m not on the clock. Pay me two hundred dollars.”

Tracy: But like when it comes to a point where someone is in need and we’re not in that social setting and you can spend 20 minutes to 40 minutes on the phone and literally change this person’s life. Yes, that is what I think, you know, the joy of pro bono work is and using our superhero power.

Deanna: Yeah, I mean, someone’s got to freakin’ do it, you know? Might as well be you.

Megan: And I realize everybody says that they’re busy. But what is 20 minutes? Or an hour?

Tracy: It’s like dessert. There’s always room. There’s always room for dessert.

Deanna: That’s why I feel like, for me, when I go out and do these presentations, I really say, it doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Yes, but your hour of time can. And I’m not saying it to just be like, “Please, please,” but it can change someone’s life.

Tracy: Yeah, it’s true. I mean, it’s not a cliché.

Deanna: Yeah, it’s real.

Megan: It is. We know. And I say this a lot of legal aid, many of the people that we support have already adverse feelings about the justice system. It’s scary. Rightfully so, right? Sometimes it’s scary. So picking up that phone to call us is a huge act of strength. And I don’t want to turn them down. So, that’s why volunteers are so important. And also, as I was telling you all before we started this. Unfortunately, law is very white, right? And my previous job working with low income students, oftentimes students of color were told they couldn’t do law school or they couldn’t make it. Or, you know, kids from low income backgrounds were told this by seeing, you know, people like Deanna. You know, people of color, women, powerful women out there like, kick in. But yeah, it’s amazing. And I don’t think you’ve realized the impact of your work when kids see that, hey, if they did it, I can do it, right?

Deanna: You know, the University of Nebraska Omaha has the underserved legal opportunities program that is aiming to kind of change this landscape. And it’s not just students of color, it’s students from rural areas… any underserved population. And it’s about giving them the tools so that they can become attorneys and you can change the lives of others.

Tracy: Yeah, the legal community is still male dominated and white male dominated. And, you know, being a woman and then adding on being a woman of color is like an entirely different world. And I was going to add to, you know, like Deanna, for your one experience in helping the woman prepare for her protection order hearing on her own. That is also something that the bench, meaning the judges, appreciate too. Because this woman is coming in kind of knowing what she should bring up. And because I think people that Pro Say, which means they represent themselves, can go off on a rambling tangent. And the judge is like, “Uhhh.”

Deanna: Because they don’t know what’s important. And we deal with this when people call for a consultation. They’ll be talking about all these things that to them are important. And emotionally they’re important, but legally it means nothing, you know? So helping people just focus the lens of what they need to even talk about.

Tracy: Yes, and like OK, when you go into the courtroom, you’re going to sit at a table. That stuff is extremely helpful

Deanna: And it’s scary can be really, really scary. You know, a lot of people and our clients have never had to be in a courtroom before. And it’s like, OK, I’m here and I will hold your hand if you want me to. Like, I offer that. I don’t know if we’re supposed to, but I do.

Tracy: Another program that I’m really excited that we just started partnering with at Hightower Reff Law is I Be Black Girl. And so I Be Black Girl has a program where they’re helping women, Black women, start their own businesses. So, they have a program right now where there’s five entrepreneurs and they need help with, you know, forming the correct business formation with the secretary of state or checking their filings or talking through contracts. And they’re, you know, getting leases on buildings and things. And maybe even like hiring employees and all those things. So we’re going to be, you know, offering basically free consultations to chat with them about what direction do they need to go in. Do they need more legal help? We talk about working further than with those people.

Deanna: A lot can be accomplished in a one hour conversation with an attorney.

Tracy: Or just to know like, yep, that contract looks good. Let’s spend the time talking about that or nope, you filed all the right, you know, documents. And just to know that like that…

Deanna: That you did it right.

Tracy: Yes, that’s huge.

Deanna: Yes, I get so many calls from people saying, you know, “Hey, I completed all these immigration forms. Can you just like check them?” And the answer to that is like, largely, you need to pay me. But, just having the second opinion of someone whose job it is to know these things is huge.

Megan: So I’m going to be the cheerleader. So again, you are empowering communities of color to hopefully want to stay here in Omaha. We know there’s a bit of an exodus, but stay here. So, shout out to all you do.

Tracy: Well, I Be Black Girl is like such an amazing organization, too.

Megan: Well Ashley just got named to like this huge women funding network board, which is like a huge conglomerate of cool people. Yes, but so that’s the thing, right? That’s why I think people really look to Hightower Reff, is like this legal model, right? Because you not only do your work and you do it really well.

Tracy: Oh, thank you.

Megan: But you also give back in a way that we all need and you’re just like, super cool kick ass, ladies.

Tracy: Yeah, that’s true.

Tracy: I mean, the part about being super cool kick ass ladies. That part is definitely true.

Deanna: Like everyone, all the attorneys here and a lot of staff, you know, everyone, also gives of their time in other ways. Joy and I both do Partnership for Kids where we go to different high schools in the area. I, of course, picked South High because, duh. And we go twice a month or sometimes more and we hang out with, you know, high schoolers and help them with school and life and just being there, being an adult that they can confide in and trust and help. We do that. I mean, I know Joy just got chosen for the new group of the new Leaders Council, and that’s going to be huge. Tracy, you did that.

Tracy: Yes.

Deanna: I’m on the board of Metro Young Latino Professionals Association also called Mil Pas. So if you are, you know, from the Omaha area and you are in some way employed, we can help you succeed in that.

Megan: They have fun parties.

Deanna: Very fun parties. We just had one and it was awesome and I won a bottle of wine that is now gone.

Tracy: As it should be as. Wine is meant to be drank.

Deanna: So like everyone does, you know, like Tracy is huge with giving of her time to securing judicial bypasses.

Tracy: Oh yes, and listen to our separate podcast about judicial bypass.

Megan: Oh, that was so interesting.

Tracy: Yes, it’s that podcast will tell you all the ins and outs of it, but I’ve done two judicial bypasses just this week and there is a third we’re going to do next week. And the numbers now are so high that we used to do about average 10 a year. And I think, we’re at the end of the year of twenty twenty one, and this year we’ve done like twenty. And judicial bypass, for the listeners, is when a young person wants to have an abortion without the aid and consent of their parents. So we bypass that consent judicially. And a judge has a hearing and decides if if they can have the abortion without the consent of their parents. So that process is super important. I can’t imagine as a young person doing that on their own. You know, navigating the filing and then having a hearing with a judge. And just the one that I had this week, I try to really prepare the young person as much as possible. Like, we’re describing the room. We’re going to go into where they’re going to sit because they are terrified, right? They’re terrified that, like their parent might be in the courtroom, which is super unlikely. And you know, someone’s going to see them right. And I forgot to tell this young person that she was going to get sworn in. So literally, she’s already super nervous and the judge says, “OK, raise your right hand.” And she looked at the judge like, “What are you talking about?” And then she like, was frozen, and I was like, “It’s OK.” You just your right hand, just put it in the air, you know? And I was like, “Oh my God, I failed. I totally forgot to tell her that.” But it’s like, that is the shit that is so terrifying for anyone, right? Not just a young person.

Deanna: Yes. And this is why it’s so important that attorneys use your damn degree and your license to help people. Because I mean, you know, when I’m in immigration court, I remember when I was even just a law student and I was helping on a case and I was sitting in the gallery with the family and the consequences are so dire that, you know, if you’re in immigration court, you’re in deportation proceedings. That’s that’s the whole purpose of it. And you know, I’m sitting there with the family and they have never been to a court before. They don’t know how to act. They don’t know what’s going on. And, you know, just sit being with them and explaining, this is what’s happening. This is how this going to work. And just being a person they can trust.

Tracy: Or maybe saying, like I often will say, at least to my judicial bypass people like, I’m going to be with you at every step of the way. We’re going to do this together. Like just saying those things, I think you see the stress go off their shoulders.

Megan: And that’s what we say, right? People generally, especially like your law firm or legal aid, they’re not coming to us like..  A lot of people that are coming to us aren’t coming to us because they’re happy, right?

Deanna: It isn’t the best day of their lives.

Megan: They’re in a personal crisis. And so they’re already stressed to the max and we know what stress does to our body, like emotionally, you know, every way. And then like to go into a like.. I was just watching eviction court and I’m like, terrified. I wasn’t there and I got a letter from like a credit card I use at the company was filing for bankruptcy or something. I work with 50 attorneys at legal aid and I was like, “What is this?” I called one of the attorneys and I’m like, I just sent you a picture like, “What is this right?” And she’s like, “It’s just like a notice.”

Tracy: But for you that meant a lot.

Megan: Right. And I was like, “Oh, OK.” She’s like, “You don’t even really have to keep it.” And I was like, because you got that in the mail. And especially if it’s, you know, I think about our clients, especially like around COVID or bankruptcy or whatever. If it’s not in Spanish, and you can’t read it.

Deanna: What happens is when people, because they have no other option, they’re not aware of their options. Their 10 year old child is sitting there trying to frantically interpret this legal document. But the child is a child. They don’t know legal terminology and then the pressure of saving their families is on their little baby shoulders. You know, that’s why I think it’s so amazing that Pesek Law has created this clinic. Because that is a lot of what we do is people come in and they say, “I got this letter or I got this notice,” or, you know, “I don’t know what to do next.” And we just kind of explain like what’s going on. And it’s just someone who can help and your actual family so that you don’t have to deal with all of this terrifying world by yourself, you know?

Tracy: Well, because the worst thing you can do sometimes in that situation is ignore the letter, you know? But I think that’s sometimes the natural, you know, progression.

Deanna: I don’t have time.

Tracy: Yeah, or the more I think about it, I don’t want to know the answer. So I’m just going to ignore it.

Megan: We see that a lot in eviction court. People just don’t show up. So when I was at eviction court watching in the courtroom and they were like, you know, this person didn’t show. If you don’t show you’re automatically evicted. But if you call Legal Aid, which I know is scary, we might be able to keep you in your home. So don’t avoid those letters, right? Like call. Even if we can’t help you, we’ll try. There are people that will try to help you, and I realize that we have to give some no’s, right? You can’t volunteer everywhere. None of us can give all of our time. Legal aid can’t help every client, but we will sure try. It’s better than just ignoring it, because some of that goes on your record forever.

Deanna: Or if you’re, you know, in immigration proceedings or you have an immigration case, there’s the Nebraska Immigration Legal Assistance Hotline, which was started by aid that is now run by the Immigrant Legal Center and a bunch of other partner organizations. But that’s another thing, you get a notice to appear or some sort of hearing notice in the mail. And if you don’t speak English or you are afraid of, what if you miss your immigration hearing, you’re ordered to be deported. So the consequences are huge. So yeah, definitely call. Get help sooner rather than later. Don’t wait till the day before or the day of.

Megan: And I probably shouldn’t give this shout out. But I often do this because those of you that know me really well, like Tracy, I don’t say no very often. So if you don’t know where to send someone, people can always reach out to me at Legal Aid. My network is pretty large because I used to do statewide work. I worked for really cool places like the ACLU and Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty. So, I will try to at least direct you because I think the lesson here is don’t just ignore. Right? Call. Email. Try to find the source. Is it going to be perfect? Like, maybe we can’t do full help, but we can get you partial help. You know, like sometimes I might be able to get somebody twenty five dollars worth of groceries when maybe they needed one hundred?

Deanna: But it’s better than nothing.

Megan: Or I might be able to call a friend and be like, “Just tell me what this form means.”

Tracy: And I think that’s the thing about pro bono. Like, it’s better than nothing, right? And and I think the takeaway for this episode is, attorneys get off your ass and do some pro bono.

Deanna: Work and do what you’re supposed to do. I mean, we’re charged with helping people and we’re advocates.

Tracy: There’s some sort of avenue that you can use what you already know to help someone immensely. Oh yeah. Finally, what that

Megan: Is, you know, like legal aid, we will help train you.

Tracy: Yes. Well, legal aid will find what avenue? Yeah.

Deanna: They’re the one stop shop.

Megan: But there is ways. I mean, there’s always a way to help and I think thought the world is especially tough right now. So if you have it not as tough, you should be helping out or giving two hours. And if you don’t have time, give 20 bucks, right?

Deanna: Yeah. And I mean, there’s ways that just the the gravitas of being an attorney, just being present at the venue said it. It just is a douchebag word. So I have to you have to say it like a douche bag, but it’s like

Megan: Fiance and I really like how you like. People can’t see it on the podcast, but how you use your beautiful hand and nails.

Deanna: Like, thank you. My nails are very long and fancy, but you know, just being an attorney present at an event, people are like, oh, OK. Like, you can use your reputation in the community or your status in order to. Just being somewhere can help elevate a cause, or it can help elevate a message and

Megan: You know, or empower someone that wants to be an attorney that didn’t think they could.

Deanna: Yes. Like when I passed the bar, my mom got me a shirt that just as Apple got on it, which is attorney in Spanish, and I wear that to whenever I go, do things like that so that little girls or, you know, kids or whoever can see like that bitch did it like, I can do it too. Like, she’s a mess, you know, or whatever. Like, I can do this too, you know?

Megan: So that is so meaningful. I saw it time and time again at my last job. Yeah, when we did call it or high school student battles to see someone that looks like you, that made it through college, that conquered all those barriers. Yes, I don’t think people realize there’s so many nonprofits you can volunteer at. Yeah, right?

Deanna: Yes. So, so, so many.

Tracy: And I think on that note, we’ll we will have links to all of these organizations in our show notes. So legal aid Planned Parenthood Iby Black Girl is a South L.A. clinic. Work off donations at all.

Deanna: I mean, it is run by paycheck law, and Ross pretty much created it and runs it by himself. So I’m sure they would love donations of

Tracy: Like cookies or something, at least.

Deanna: Yeah, it’s definitely time. I know that the issue is it’s every single week. So if I can’t be there, Ross is by himself. So if you’re an attorney and you have some time and you like to help others, do you have to be a Spanish speaker? Because that was my no, because we have people who are there, who there are other like law students or, you know. Legal assistants who like to come and just do and help in interviews to interpret so I

Megan: Would come and check people in.

Deanna: Yeah, that would be great.

Megan: Definitely is what does come with it afterwards.

Deanna: There are many restaurants nearby that we can support with our dollars.

Megan: That’s what I was like. Yeah, yeah. But no, I totally go. I mean, because I think also it’s about knowing other parts of Omaha and also other people’s struggles. It makes you a better person when you have empathy to what other people are going through. Yes, because I feel like some people, you know, just I think that’s so important in Omaha. We are very segregated. Take yourself out of that box and learn about other parts of town, other people’s struggles,

Deanna: Just like through life. I mean, yeah, just everyday life. It’s it’s a totally different. I mean, South Omaha feels like a totally different world like than, you know, I don’t go west like, I don’t feel comfortable in West Omaha. That’s just like me personally. I feel way more comfortable in South, though, because people look like me. People talk like me. People are from my community, my culture like, so you know, yeah, everyone should definitely be reaching out out of your box.

Tracy: Get off your ass, do some work, donate some money. If you can’t do the work, donate the money.

Deanna: We all know you have it. You know you’re attorneys.

Megan: Yeah, yeah. And if you need money, you could always do or private attorney involvement where you would get money? Yes.

Deanna: Yeah. Like, if you’re starting, I have some friends who, you know, decided to start their own law firm after they graduated law school, and a great way that they built their practices was to start taking on volunteer lawyers, project cases. Or taking on the, you know, low bono or pro bono cases. And they, you know, you get guidance the whole way and they learned how to do areas of law and they built their practice. And now they’re successful, you know, and can take private paying clients and things like that.

Tracy: So yeah, there’s a quid pro quo benefit,

Deanna: Quid pro quo, pro bono.

Megan: Do some fun gatherings for our volunteers and our clients.

Deanna: Yeah, absolutely.

Tracy: So, yeah, do stuff.

Megan: Do send money. Nonprofits celebrate the work that they do provide time and the money. Yeah, as someone who does fundraising, it’s not an easy job. Being a non-profit employee is not an easy job.

Deanna: It’s not a cakewalk.

Megan: And at least thank nonprofit employees.

Tracy: Yes. Well, thank you.

Megan: Yeah, not just me, but specifically.

Deanna: Thanks, Megan.

Megan: What do you think? I don’t think people have realized how hard even the pandemic has just been on nonprofit employees. Yeah, because we haven’t got to take a break. Yeah. And we’ve been required to go above and beyond. And I’m not even direct surveys, right? Like, I get to sit at home and do that do the fundraising. But for those that have been on the front lines, helping people just. Stay to maintain, yeah, and mean, live and hard breathe.

Tracy: Yes, well, thank you again for joining us and for Deanna being also with us today.

Deanna: Yes, I love being here. Thank you.

Tracy: So. All right. Thanks for listening and check out the show notes and get off your ass and donate.

Megan: Yes, right?

Outro: Thank you for listening to the Lady Lawyer League. Be sure to like and subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts, if you would like to learn more go to We’ll see you next week.

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