Cathy Haukedahl worked at the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, was the state’s first woman solicitor general and was a shareholder at Felhaber Larson. But she maintained an active pro bono practice that was her first love.
In 2002 she became the deputy director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid in Minneapolis and in 2011 succeeded Jerry Lane as executive director. The Great Recession was in full force. The Legislature proposed deep, deep budget cuts. Some of the money came back, but not all of it, and funding has lagged ever since. “This was a whole new level of navigating the waters,” Haukedahl said.
While legal aid has tremendous support within the profession, it could be better known and understood in the rest of the community, Haukedahl said. Traditional sources of funding that are familiar with pro bono legal services are having financial problems of their own.
The bottom line: Legal aid turns away three out of five potential clients who have actual issues and whom the office could help. “How do we expand and serve people?” she asked.
Haukedahl retired last year but has not packed away her briefcase and is still helping clients. “My wish list is that the country would address systemic poverty issues so we wouldn’t need to keep helping people.”