This past summer, I had the opportunity to clerk at Legal Aid Services of Oregon’s (LASO) Portland regional office in downtown Portland. LASO’s mission is to achieve justice by providing high quality civil legal services to low-income communities of Oregon. I was able to work with several attorneys who had cases from different areas of law. I was also on-call for LASO’s Domestic Violence Project hotline once a week.
One of the reasons I wanted to work at LASO was because I knew I would get lots of client contact. The first time I met a client face-to-face was when I went on a habitability visit with an attorney. We visited the client’s home because she had contacted LASO on several occasions about the condition of her house. I was also on the phone with clients a lot. I had to learn to be patient with clients while explaining complex processes, and I also had to learn to bring clients back to the main issue.
However, even though I learned a lot about communicating with clients, I think I learned the most when I represented a client in court whose restraining order was being contested. I was responsible for creating a proper line of questioning for my client and the witnesses. I also had to learn how to present evidence to the court properly. A big challenge for me was remaining calm before the court, but I had to focus on the task at hand and make sure the client did not get off track in her answers. In the end, the judge ruled in our favor. None of that would have been possible without the support of my supervising attorney.
The most difficult part about working at LASO was telling clients we could not help them. LASO has very limited resources and relies on many volunteer attorneys throughout the state to help clients. When an attorney and I decided that we could not use LASO resources to represent a client, we usually notified them by letter. We would occasionally hear from them before or after we sent them the letter. The worst experience I had at LASO was when I received a call from the client whose home we visited. We sent her a letter letting her know that we could not help her. She was upset and angry that we had taken up so much of her time.
Working at LASO was probably one of the most positive work experiences I have ever had, even with the difficult client interactions. I met attorneys who were incredibly friendly and patient. It was highly educational and strengthened my motivation to continue working for low-income communities and communities of color. The experience strengthened my motivation to do what I came to law school for – being a resource for people by helping them navigate the law.