Pro Bono Spotlight: Catherine Ahlin-Halverson

Catherine Ahlin-Halverson currently works for Maslon LLP as Public Interest Counsel and as Executive Director of UPLIFT Legal Institute for Teens, a nonprofit legal pipeline program. Over the years, Catherine has done pro bono work in partnership with many organizations, including Advocates for Human Rights, the ACLU of Minnesota, the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project, Volunteer Lawyer’s Network and the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota. In her 20 years of volunteering experience, it’s clear that this work is critical to Ahlin-Halverson. She explains:

“Pro bono and access to justice work is important because it is the right thing to do. We have many neighbors in our community who cannot access a lawyer when they need one and proceeding without one can be devastating. It is a privilege to walk alongside a person going through difficult challenges and support them through that journey. It also makes our system better because without pro bono representation, that person might otherwise go unrepresented. In addition, representing pro bono clients is deeply rewarding and has fostered deep connections and friendships with lawyers with whom I have worked.”

Making time for pro bono work is a common barrier to pro bono, but Ahlin-Halverson’s solution focuses on how she views her clients. 

“I was a commercial litigator for the first 16 years of my career, and I made time for pro bono work by treating my pro bono clients as I would treat any client. I approached pro bono matters as I did all of my cases – working as a team with other lawyers in my firm, listening to our clients and pursuing their goals and priorities, and planning ahead – and I thus did not have to work to ‘make time’ for them. My pro bono work was simply part of the work on my plate.”

It’s not just clients who have benefited from her representation. Catherine says she has gained critical knowledge in the process. 

“I have learned how seemingly small barriers to accessing justice can pile up over time and become substantial walls barring access. Each small intervention helps someone solve a problem that might otherwise go unresolved, and this can add up to significant cumulative impacts over time. I also have learned how important it is for clients to be empowered by representation – to ultimately be heard in their legal process – and how much more effectively matters are resolved when that happens.”

Along with those insights, pro bono provides an opportunity for inspiring career highlights. So, what has been her favorite career moment as it relates to pro bono? Catherine shares:

“One of my favorite career moments was helping a former asylum client obtain his green card. I met this client shortly after he had fled his home country because of severe persecution by his own community and government on the basis of his sexuality. Walking with him through those really difficult initial years when he was living in limbo and having to build a new life in the United States to now, when he has an established home, job, and community, has been incredibly rewarding. When he got his green card, we calendared the date in several years when he will be eligible to apply for citizenship, and I so look forward to continuing to support him on that journey.”

Catherine Ahlin-Halverson has led an inspiring career, elevating marginalized voices, committing to system change, and keeping pro bono at her core, and she’s not stopping anytime soon. She hopes to inspire the rest of the legal community to make pro bono and access to justice work a part of their journey, leaving us with this call to action.

“Pro bono work is accessible, wherever you work, and whatever your expertise. Recently, to help with the pressing need for pro bono lawyers to represent Afghan evacuees in asylum cases, I recruited a team of Maslon and Thrivent lawyers to partner with Advocates for Human Rights and take on several clients. Many of the Maslon and Thrivent lawyers had not previously represented asylum seekers, but with excellent training and support from Advocates and by working together, lawyers on our team were able to take on clients they would not otherwise have represented, and together, we have helped more clients than we could have represented on our own.”


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