My PILP stipend allowed me the opportunity to clerk for the Portland Regional Office of Legal Aid Services of Oregon. This office serves the civil legal needs of our low-income community in Multnomah County and four surrounding counties. Their priorities include cases involving basic human needs – food, shelter, income maintenance and physical safety. Due to lack of resources, currently less than twenty percent of the civil legal needs of the low-income population of Oregon are met. Legal Aid’s clients are mostly women who have children to support. As a summer clerk, I was able to witness and support not only the vulnerable population I hope to serve one day, but also a group of dedicated Legal Aid advocates working toward social justice.
My first project was a written appeal to the Employment Appeals Board for a client whose unemployment benefits had been wrongfully denied. The appeal was successful and the client was awarded the benefits. Later, I was able to represent a client at their unemployment hearing. It was exciting and very unique in my legal education to have such direct learning experiences. I also had the opportunity to work on legal research and memos for employment discrimination cases, housing law and family law cases.
A big part of my responsibilities included client intakes for the Domestic Violence Project. Speaking with these clients allowed me to experience the impact of violence on their families and better understand their specific legal needs. The opportunity to help women secure restraining orders against abusive partners was, at times, emotionally difficult, but also satisfying to know I supported their transition toward safety for themselves and their children. I also helped update the Continuing Legal Education credit course that Legal Aid offers to volunteer attorneys interested in representing victims of Domestic Violence. Other educational opportunities included a trip to visit with Oregon Supreme Court Justice Walters in Salem, and trips to community partners such as the Gateway Center for Domestic Violence Services. The experiences I had were invaluable for my education and inspiration to serve as a public interest lawyer. I learned directly how client-centered legal advocacy can make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged people in our community. I will always be grateful to PILP and to Legal Aid for making my experience possible, and these lessons have built a foundation for a lifetime of legal service.