Born for the Law
“I’ve been interested in the law since I was very young,” said Leila Kimbrell, the 2006 editor in chief of Willamette Law Online. Although she described her upbringing as working class, few people in her immediate family are surprised by her decision to attend law school. “I remember being really young and wanting to be a lawyer.”
Kimbrell was raised by her grandparents in Soldotna, Alaska, a small town about 150 miles south of Anchorage. “Growing up, my grandparents stressed to me the importance of having a vocation,” she said, adding that she was the first person in her family to graduate from college. “My grandparents are just tickled pink that I’m getting all this education.”
Kimbrell credits her grandfather with first sparking her interest in the law. “My grandfather is my hero,” she said. “He never went to college or law school, yet he did so many great things. He was a senator for Alaska for eight years. I used to follow him around when I was young — that’s how I learned about politics and the law.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in justice from the University of Alaska–Anchorage, Kimbrell accepted a position with the Anchorage Mental Health Court, a voluntary court that hears cases involving individuals diagnosed with mental disabilities who are charged with misdemeanor offenses. The goal of the program is to divert people into treatment and services, rather than incarcerate them. “It was a cool program — therapeutic justice,” said Kimbrell, adding that the experience motivated her to apply to law school.
“Willamette has a fantastic reputation in Alaska,” she explained. “Alaska doesn’t have a law school, so Willamette has taken on that ‘hometown favor’ even though it is in Oregon. It was important for me to know that my law degree would be respected by the community where I wanted to work. Willamette is known for producing really good attorneys.” Given that she plans to return to her native Alaska after graduation, the decision to attend Willamette was an easy one.
During her second year at Willamette, Kimbrell worked on Willamette Law Online, a resource for daily and weekly summaries of cases that shape the law in the Pacific Northwest. Key coverage areas include the U.S. Supreme Court, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Oregon courts and intellectual property. “All the editors and writers work on a volunteer basis,” Kimbrell said. “We spend anywhere from four to 15 hours a week on the journal. We have more than 10,000 subscribers. That’s a big responsibility.”
Kimbrell was selected to lead the journal at the end of her second year. She said the position has allowed her to stay better informed and amass more knowledge than she ever expected. “Being editor in chief of the online journal is much different than that of other journals,” she said. “The editors have to keep daily tabs on what’s going on in the courts. It has really helped me stay informed and further develop my writing skills.” In addition to overseeing editing of case summaries, she manages the journal staff and maintains the program budget.
Kimbrell said the most stressful part of her job is maintaining the high level of quality of every issue. She also had to adjust to the demands of being online every day. She was initially surprised by the work load, but learned to successfully juggle all her responsibilities. “You never quite believe the stories about the work load until you actually start doing the work, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said. “I’ve had a fantastic time at Willamette. I’ve really enjoyed being surrounded by so many smart and highly motivated people. The intimacy of the school really creates a neat atmosphere. It makes you want to get involved.”