PORTLAND, Maine — The head of Maine’s largest legal services provider will be honored Thursday at the White House as a Champion of Change.
Nan Heald, executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, was one of 16 people chosen to be honored for their work to provide legal services to the people who cannot afford to hire lawyers to represent them on civil matters.
“Maine has produced many champions for justice, who have worked to ensure that all Mainers, regardless of financial situation, receive a fair hearing and the enforcement of laws designed for their benefit and protection,” Heald, 56, of Portland said Wednesday in an email. “Under these circumstances, it’s a little embarrassing to be personally singled out for recognition. On the other hand, I’m very proud of Pine Tree’s ability to maintain and expand high-quality services in a tough financial climate. I’m hoping that this award will inspire new support for that work going forward.”
The White House program Champions of Change singles out individuals associated with issues from breast cancer to suicide prevention to saving family farms. Heald and the others will be honored for their work on access-to-justice issues. They will be featured on the program’s website at www.whitehouse.gov/champions the week of Oct. 24, which has been designated Pro Bono Week. “Pro bono” means lawyers work for clients without charging them.
Heald grew up in Oquossoc in the western mountains of Maine. She graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. She joined Pine Tree Legal Assistance in 1985 as a staff lawyer in its Native American Unit.
In 1990, she became executive director of the legal service provider. Heald is known in the legal community for innovative use of technology, according to her biography that will be posted on the Champions of Change website. In 1996, Pine Tree Legal Assistance was the first legal services provider in the nation to include self-help resources on its website. Last year, Heald helped launch a national website to help address the legal needs of low-income veterans and military families.
Under her leadership, Pine Tree Legal Assistance also has created separate programs to serve children, homeowners facing foreclosure, and the needs of low-income taxpayers.