Training grounds for good

by Raymond Penney,

  • The 2016 recipients of WUPILP fellowships.
    The 2016 recipients of WUPILP fellowships were (left to right): Paloma Dale, Erin Roycroft, Melissa Vollono, Olivia Godt and Jessica Ismond.

“It’s becoming more and more essential to have practical experience before entering the marketplace after graduation,” says Curtis Bridgeman, dean of Willamette University College of Law.

Albert Menashe JD’76, shareholder at Gevurtz Menashe in Portland, Oregon, who has hired more than his fair share of lawyers over the years, agrees: “Any kind of practical legal experience a new lawyer (candidate) can find is always good and something we continue to look for.”

Clinic, fellowship, externship and clerkship positions provide important training grounds for budding lawyers. Willamette Law helps students seize these opportunities throughout their law school tenure. One such opportunity is the Willamette University Public Interest Law Project (WUPILP) Fellowship Program, where students learn valuable lawyering skills through engaging in public interest law at the ground level.

Each summer, fellows go out into the legal community and work: writing, researching and advocating, while also networking, learning and laying the groundwork for future opportunities.

This past spring, WUPILP offered a record five Willamette Law students fellowships, thanks to the generosity of donor Maribeth Collins H’93. The fellows entered the legal community this summer armed with motivation and academic know-how. In the fall, they returned to college with experience and a better understanding of how to apply the law they learn at Willamette.

Lawyering skills: The experiential way

Third-year law student Melissa Vollono used the fellowship to work in Portland with the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project (NWJP), which provides legal advice and education to Oregon’s low-wage workers. NWJP also helps law students and recent law graduates increase their legal expertise and general awareness of issues plaguing many low-wage workers.

Vollono worked on a variety of issues related to advocacy of low-wage workers’ rights — a relatively new area of law with much of the defining case law yet to be written. She researched and drafted model employment legislation, focusing on ways in which the state can help combat the problem of wage theft in Oregon. She also helped staff attorneys prepare for hearings, mediations and arbitrations, as well as assisting in the drafting of litigation documents.

“This fellowship allowed me to gain valuable experience in employment law,” she says. “It also sharpened my academic focus and helped me become a more effective legal writer and researcher. The experience of researching and writing about modern advances in contract law will help me apply real world scenarios to the subjects I’m studying.”

Speaking lawyer to non-lawyers

The WUPILP fellowship gave second-year law student Erin Roycroft the opportunity to spend the summer working with the Metropolitan Public Defender Service (MPD) in Portland — and fulfill her goal of advocating for the most vulnerable members of society.

MPD represents clients in more than 15,000 court-appointed cases per year. Aside from drafting motions and conducting legal research, Roycroft conducted intake interviews and client follow-ups for MPD’s expungement clinic.

Working with a supervising attorney, she checked records to assess whether clients were eligible to have their criminal record expunged. She also followed up with clients personally. “Even if I had to tell a client they weren’t eligible for an expungement, I tried to help them come up with a plan for how to get there,” she says. “I realized that the analytical skills taught in a law school classroom don’t always translate to the messy practice of law, but they can be used to make a real impact on a person’s life.

“My experience at MPD stoked my fire for learning as much as I can in the coming years,” Roycroft continues, “so that I can be of service once I become a practicing attorney.”

Legal education meets society

Thanks to the WUPILP fellowship, Olivia Godt spent the summer in Vancouver, Washington, working for the Northwest Justice Project (NJP), which provides legal advocacy that promotes the long-term well-being of low-income individuals, families and communities.

Godt was excited to do the kind of “meaningful work” she’s passionate about. In collaboration with staff and supervising attorneys, she wrote persuasive briefs, worked on driver re-licensing cases, and sat in on meetings about implementing statewide programs.

The experience better prepared Godt for her second year at Willamette Law.

“The fellowship reminded me about the larger, positive impact that lawyers can have on society, especially in representing low-income or otherwise marginalized clients,” she says. “My coursework has a renewed, deeper meaning, which I am confident will positively affect my academic success.”

Hands-on with the day-to-day everything

The WUPILP fellowship granted Paloma Dale the resources to work a clerkship with the Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO) in the Farmworkers Program. LASO provides representation on civil cases to low-income clients throughout Oregon.

Dale found the work “inspiring and rewarding.” She did research; drafted client letters, complaints, and part of an appellate brief; conducted outreach efforts in local farm labor camps; sat in on local radio interviews; and represented a client through an entire unemployment appeals process. Dale said the fellowship experience helped her become more creative and diligent in her research.

“The projects I worked on made me more aware of how creative you can be in applying logic from pieces of cases to seemingly very different facts,” she says. “It will be incredibly useful for any future public interest work that I do.”

Real-world training, real-world cases

Jessica Ismond worked with the Hamilton County (Ohio) Public Defender’s Office in the juvenile division over the summer.

After obtaining her legal intern certificate from the Ohio Supreme Court, which allowed her to appear and practice alongside a supervising attorney in any court of record in Ohio, Ismond gained valuable first-hand experience when she sat first chair during a criminal trial. Contributing during multiple stages of the legal process, she researched case law for competency hearings, wrote motions to compel, dismiss, or seal/expunge, and completed appellate briefs.

Heading into her third year at Willamette Law, she says, “These practical experiences will help me further contextualize my academic work.”

This article originally appeared in the fall 2016 edition of Willamette Lawyer, the magazine of the first law school in the Pacific Northwest.

The WUPILP annual fellowship fundraiser, the Bid for Justice Auction, will be held on March 17, 2017, at the Salem Convention Center. Consider attending to support public interest law and increase access to justice for all.

About Willamette University College of Law

Opened in 1883, Willamette University College of Law is the first law school in the Pacific Northwest. The college has a long tradition at the forefront of legal education and is committed to the advancement of knowledge through excellent teaching, scholarship and mentorship. Leading faculty, thriving externship and clinical law programs, ample practical skills courses and a proactive career placement office prepare Willamette law students for today's legal job market. According to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association, Willamette ranks first in the Pacific Northwest for job placement for full-time, long-term, JD-preferred/JD-required jobs for the class of 2014 and first in Oregon for the classes of 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Located across the street from the state capitol complex and the Oregon Supreme Court, the college specializes in law and government, law and business, and dispute resolution.