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Celebrating Women’s History Month: An Interview with Laurie Heer Dale

Laurie Heer Dale

Laurie Heer Dale

Executive Director

Laurie Heer Dale is the Executive Director for Legal Aid of Nebraska. Heer Dale earned a Juris Doctor degree in 2000 from Creighton University School of Law and is admitted to practice law in Iowa and Nebraska.          A native of Iowa, she is married to Terry Dale and is the mother of four children. In addition, Heer Dale is an appointed member of the Nebraska Supreme Court Self-Represented Litigation Committee and a member of the Nebraska State Bar Association and the Omaha Bar Association.

What originally brought you to Legal Aid? How did you decide to enter this field?

Legal Aid’s mission brought me. I knew when attending law school I either wanted to practice criminal law or in the nonprofit sector.  I tried private practice for one year and confirmed the nonprofit sector was the right place for me.  I was hired to do juvenile court work, which was an area of interest for me.  Prior to law school, I completed an internship in a county attorney’s office and was able to assist with their juvenile court cases.  I enjoyed it there; and, they somehow appreciated my work; so, they created a paid position for me.  I nearly didn’t go to law school because I enjoyed my time there; however, they “ordered” me to do so.  On my last day, they provided me with a “Court Order”, ordering me to attend law school.

Did you always want to work in law? If not, what did you want to be when you grew up

Yes, I had an extreme interest in the law at an early age; but, I did not begin my college career with that plan.  Rather, I had planned to be an educator—I wanted to teach. I did some student teaching at the high school level and decided that wasn’t quite the right fit.  So, I eventually focused on psychology, my second major, and to potentially become a psychologist.  At that point, I continued to consider law school, but more seriously.  I ultimately decided attending law school and becoming a lawyer was the best fit for me.

What are your current responsibilities at Legal Aid and how did you get there?

I am the Executive Director at Legal Aid of Nebraska.  However, I am not new to Legal Aid.  I began my legal career in Nebraska as an associate attorney at Legal Aid, handling juvenile court cases, family law cases and social security cases.  I eventually transitioned to the Centralized Intake Unit, or AccessLine, where I became a supervising and then managing attorney of that unit.  In 2011, I became a director, continuing to manage the Centralized Intake Unit but also assisting with managing the firm, including engaging in development and community engagement work. I left Legal Aid in 2018 to become the Director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project at the Nebraska State Bar Association, where I would continue honing my leadership and development skills.  In October 2022, I returned to Legal Aid of Nebraska as the Executive Director.

How do you feel about being the first female Executive Director at Legal Aid?

It seems unreal.  In fact, I generally don’t think about it.  It’s an extreme honor; and, at times I feel as though I am not worthy of being the first female executive director of the modern Legal Aid of Nebraska. I am thankful for Colleen Buckley and Sister Tim O’Roark, who served as Executive Directors of the Omaha Legal Aid Society before it merged with other Nebraska legal aid services to become what is now Legal Aid of Nebraska.

What does representation like this mean for women?

It’s a significant advancement for women.  While more and more women are becoming leaders of businesses and organizations, we still have a long way to go to see leadership equality.

What is something you wish you would have known earlier in your career?

While I always dreamed of being an executive director of a nonprofit legal service provider, I didn’t truly believe it would occur.  I kept hoping and working toward this goal, never knowing if it could or would come to fruition.  However, had I known it would be a reality, and not just a dream, I might have been more deliberate about some things, including and perhaps most importantly obtaining and utilizing mentors along the way.

As a woman, what are the most significant barriers you had to overcome to thrive in your role, in the industry, or in the workplace?
  1. Balancing work and family
  2. Lack of female leadership networking
  3. Delayed career advancement and pay equity
Which inspiring woman would you invite to your dream dinner party and why?

I don’t think I could settle on just one for a dream dinner party.  I envision a dinner party with 5 guests. Of those guests, I would want to invite at least one who inspires me intellectually and artistically and one who aligns with something of significant interest to me.  With that, I’d invite (or would have invited):

 

  1. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (intellectually inspiring—need I say more?)
  2. Marilyn Monroe (artistically inspiring in many ways; she is an icon for women)
  3. Harper Lee (racial injustice is of significant interest to me; her book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of my favorites and helped shape my views as a teen.)
  4. Amanda Gorman (intellectually inspiring; I cannot wait to see what the future holds for Ms. Gorman)
  5. Taylor Swift (artistically inspiring and supports issues of significant interest to me and Legal Aid’s mission, including equality.  Her record as a female music artist is one of a kind.)
Tell me something you like to do outside of work.

I love to read, bake and camp.

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