A half century of service

Dan Haller, pictured with his wife, Linda, has put the cap on a 50-year career of providing underserved people with legal representation. He still serves as a volunteer with Neighborhood Legal Services.

Looking back on a legal career that has spanned 50 years, Dan Haller, Hazel Drive, has a lot of great stories and good memories—and no regrets about the more lucrative road not taken.

“I had some nice offers” to go into private practice over the years, he said. But instead, Haller, 82, started at Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS), which represents low-income clients in civil cases, in 1974. And there he stayed, until his official retirement last year, although he’s still a volunteer.

That instinct for community service may be genetic: Haller is a grandson of Mary Haller, lauded as “the first lady of Mt. Lebanon” in a Pittsburgh Press story marking her 83rd birthday in 1948. Many years earlier, as a widow with six children, Mary was a savvy real estate investor, assisting in the development of the Hoodridge area and other Mt. Lebanon neighborhoods. In 1919, she acted as a straw buyer, to forestall possible Protestant objections, when the Diocese of Pittsburgh acquired the land for St. Bernard’s Church. In addition, Haller’s mother Leonie (Nonie) Haller worked as a bookkeeper in Mt. Lebanon municipal offices for 25 years, until 1972.

Dan Haller earned degrees from Wheeling College (now Wheeling University) and Notre Dame. He taught at Community College of Allegheny County, and considered going back to school to complete a doctorate in Russian studies. But law school beckoned as a “late vocation,” he remembered.

Following graduation from Pitt’s law school, Haller clerked for Beaver County Judge J. Quint Salmon. He was recruited by R. Stanton Wettick Jr., head of NLS and later an Allegheny County Common Pleas court judge, to join two other attorneys in opening an NLS office in Beaver County.

“It was a good way to get thrown into the trenches. I thought I’d get some experience and move on,” he said with a laugh.

Haller started at a dramatic time in local history. Although Jones and Laughlin’s massive Aliquippa Works weren’t shut down until 1984, layoffs were becoming alarmingly common. Lifelong residents were at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure. Subprime mortgage lenders, who achieved infamy in the early 2000s, were preying on low-income would-be homeowners as far back as the 1970s and ’80s. Haller and his colleagues jumped right in.

“We started to challenge and appeal foreclosures,” he recalled. The lenders “were doing all kinds of shady things. Stopping them was so satisfying.”

By 1983, Haller had moved to the Pittsburgh NLS office. He and his wife, Linda, had bought a house in Mt. Lebanon a few years before, and were raising two sons, Lee and Sam. Haller’s Pittsburgh practice included family law cases.

“I was interested in supporting women with children born out of wedlock,” he said. But some related aspects, including custody disputes and filing for protection from abuse orders, could be harrowing.

When he turned 70, Haller cut back to a three-day workweek. Last September he retired. But he’s still part of NLS’ Tangled Title program, helping low-income residents “untangle” a home title whose holder is unclear.

On Sundays, he and Linda, a retired psychiatric nurse who worked at Intercare in Bethel Park, walk down Washington Road to attend Mass at St. Bernard, which shares a history with his family’s own. Often, they’ll stop for coffee at Orbis after church. Their son, Lee, lives in Pittsburgh with his family. Sam and his family live in the Washington, D.C., area.

Retirement is good, but Haller is quietly yet clearly proud of the work he did and continues to do. Neighborhood Legal Services “is a very supportive environment. We’re not competing with each other for clients. The work is satisfying.

“You get to see life’s parade,” he added.

Photography by Elizabeth Hruby McCabe