2 Omaha Law Firms Receive Equal Justice Awards

By 
David Golbitz
The Daily Record

Beginning in 2019, Legal Aid of Nebraska has honored individuals and partner organizations who work to help achieve greater and more equal justice for all.

The Equal Justice Awards were presented during the annual Friends of Legal Aid Luncheon fundraiser, held virtually Sept. 30.

Two Omaha-based law firms were honored with the Law Firm Partner Award.

Baird Holm was selected due to its longtime support of the work and mission of Legal Aid of Nebraska.

“One of the great things about our country is that we create laws, and we adhere to those laws,” Baird Holm managing partner Chris Hedican said in accepting the award. “But the system has to be fair to everyone and people need advocacy. If we didn’t provide these opportunities for people, through Legal Aid, to have the resources for the system, it’s not legitimate at that point.”

A recent example of Baird Holm’s advocacy took place this past summer. Some of the firm’s attorneys participated in an event called “Legal Advice and Lemonade,” organized by the Women’s Center for Advancement to bring legal counsel to survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The other Law Firm Partner Award was given to partners Tracy Hightower-Henne and Susan Reff of Hightower Reff Law.

Hightower Reff Law was selected because of their extensive efforts to help ensure low income individuals receive high quality legal services during some of the toughest times of their lives.

“Pro bono work has been identified as something in our strategic plan that Tracy and I, as partners of this law firm, want to start doing more of,” Reff said. “And then on top of that, our associate attorneys are telling us they want to start doing more pro bono work.”

“All the attorneys have sort of found their little ways to do it,” Hightower-Henne said. “When we hire attorneys, we know that they are going to use their law degree for good, but now, this provides a lot of structure for our firm to be able to do it in ways that we’ve identified that we want to help the legal communities with.”

Omaha attorney Marcia Anderson received the Attorney Partner Award for her dedication to volunteering at nearly every Legal Aid pro bono event, and for her initiative in recruiting colleagues to volunteer with Legal Aid as well.

Anderson first became involved with Legal Aid of Nebraska when she met a neighbor who works for Legal Aid while they were both out walking their dogs.

“It is most satisfying, and you feel that you’ve made the world turn in a positive way when you’ve helped them overcome some obstacle,” Anderson said. “And so that makes you feel that this profession that we have these licenses for is doing what we’re supposed to do in the community.”

Anderson was surprised to learn that she was receiving the award.

“I haven’t done that much to earn this award, I didn’t think,” Anderson said. “It makes you realize that there’s more of a need. It just kind of makes you want to go recruit a few more people.”

Other award winners include Mutual of Omaha Foundation, which received the Corporate Partner Award because it recognized early on the impacts of the pandemic on the nonprofit advocacy and social services communities.

“We know that our success is predicated on the strength of the community where we’re based and our community can only be as strong as our most vulnerable friends and neighbors,” Mutual of Omaha Foundation Executive Director Gail Graeve said.

The Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation received the Community Partner Award because of their early leadership and addressing the affordable housing crisis facing low income, essential workers in central Nebraska, and for their consistent support of Legal Aid’s initiatives to enforce legal rights associated with safe and healthy living conditions for all.

“In many cases, with a little help, you can get people back on their feet,” said Mid-Nebraska’s Executive Director Eric Seacrest. “We’ve heard many stories about families who’ve been able to get things back together again and move on and find some decent housing and find jobs and get on with their regular life.”

Retired tax consultant Will Wallace of Lincoln received the Volunteer Partner Award for his work assisting Legal Aid clients prepare their income tax returns.

“It’s important that the people have representation in the justice system and in the tax system because it can be very overwhelming,” Wallace said. “You’re helping people who really need the help that can’t afford to pay somebody two, three, four hundred dollars an hour to work on their tax returns.”

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