June 01, 2009
Legal Aid Services of Oregon - Farmworkers Program
Legal Aid Services of Oregon - Farmworkers Program, Portland, OR
I am more committed to public interest law because of my work this summer as a law clerk at the Farmworkers Program of Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO). Coming out of my first year, I wanted to gain practical experience in a law office and to pursue employment in service of the public interest. My position with LASO satisfied both of those desires.
In the context of farmworkers and the legal issues that affect them, I wrote memoranda, researched and wrote summaries of the law, updated an intra-office outline of Oregon wage claim laws, and drafted client letters and court documents. In the company of attorneys and community educators, I provided outreach services to labor camps in the Willamette and Columbia River Valleys.
The most gratifying aspect of my work this summer was the sensation of helping the law work to protect farmworkers by informing them of their rights. Mechanisms exist within the law that guarantee farmworkers’ basic rights as laborers and residents in the U.S.; unfortunately farmworkers often are ignorant of the causes of action and claims available to them when their rights are violated.
The tragedy is that, even knowing they have legal recourse, many farmworkers are so constrained by the need to survive that they often will suffer indignity and dangerous conditions just to stay on a given payroll or in a given camp. This breakdown in the function of the laws particular to farmworkers underscores the weakness in those laws, and that weakness is part and parcel of working for the farmworker community. This summer I did not have the experience of seeing a client through from initiating an action to its resolution. Instead I saw what is much more common: the oppressed shying away from taking action because they are cowed by fear and misinformation.
I would not trade my experience this summer for any other. I familiarized myself with a particular set of laws, I helped inform farmworkers of their rights under those laws, and at times I witnessed those laws work to protect and provide recourse to our clients. This brief taste of reality has whetted my appetite for public interest work, and now more than ever I am anxious to sink my teeth in.