A Broader Appreciation for the Law
Every summer when she was young, W. Warren Binford’s father would pack up the family for a month-long road trip. “He would drive to the end of our street, turn to us and say, ‘OK, where to?’” These excursions took Binford to almost all 50 states and allowed her to see a side of life her childhood in Los Angeles otherwise would not have provided. “Those trips really gave me an appreciation for others — that we are all part of a larger world community,” said Binford, an assistant professor of law and the director of Willamette’s Clinical Law Program.
Much of Binford’s career has been dominated by a desire to help others and an interest in child advocacy. “I have a fear of living a wasted life,” she explained, “of not creating a better world, especially for children.” Binford’s devotion to children developed into an interest in education and educational reform.
After earning an undergraduate degree from Boston University, she took a job teaching inner-city kids in Los Angeles. “I was devastated by what I saw in South Central compared with my own experiences,” she said. Determined to find a way to make a difference, Binford returned to BU and enrolled in a graduate teaching program. “Earning a master’s degree in education allowed me to build my credentials so that I would be credible in the dialogue on educational issues. It gave me a new level of expertise for discussions, so I could come to the table as an informed contributor.”
Binford’s interest in advancing public policy on education soon led her to the study of law. In between her first and second years at Harvard Law School, she worked for the International Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Croatian Red Cross, working for child victims of war. She also spent a summer with the Red Cross of Japan, training doctors and nurses to work with children in crisis and child victims of war.
Following graduation, Binford took a job with Pillsbury Winthrop LLP in Sacramento, Calif. Although she spent the majority of her time working in corporate law, she served on the firm’s pro bono committee and volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for children. “I’ve worked for more than five years with high-risk foster kids,” she explained, “those abused or with no solid, long-term foster placement, those at special risk of falling through the cracks.”
As a CASA, Binford serves as “the voice of the child” within the court system. She currently works with two foster children. “Until recently, I worked with a third, but she’s left the system, moved on. This past summer, I was maid of honor at her wedding,” she said, of the happy ending to the girl’s troubled past.
Given Binford’s devotion to others, it is not surprising that she ultimately decided to leave the world of corporate law. “I worried that I was becoming too comfortable with the power and money that came with the job,” she said. “I was afraid I’d lose touch with what is most important in life. I wanted to return to teaching and to focus my life on helping others in need,” she said, of the decision that brought her to Willamette University College of Law.
“Willamette really serves as an intersection for me; I can pursue my interests in education and educational reform, international children’s rights, and service to community and children in need,” stated Binford, who teaches the Business Law Clinic and co-teaches the General Civil Practice Clinic and the Externship seminar. She also has developed a 10-year strategic plan for the Clinical Law Program, which assists disadvantaged populations and non-profit corporations with legal issues and provides externship placements for law students. Second- and third-year law students serve as the primary contacts for clinic clients. They draft motions and argue cases under the supervision of clinic staff.
Just as her father’s unmapped road trips provided her with a broader view of the world, Binford said she believes the law clinic will widen Willamette students’ appreciation for the law. “The clinic is more than just a great way for students to build their resumes before leaving law school,” she explained. “It can really rock their worlds — alter their perceptions of their role in society and the power they will have as lawyers. For some students, this experience can change their entire career path.” No doubt, Binford will be there, providing support and guidance as they find their way.