This summer I had the privilege of working for the Oregon Innocence Project. OIP is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal representation for incarcerated men and women with viable claims of innocence. All of the organization’s resources are put to work for the clients that are languishing in prison, and the work is often arduous, complex, and time consuming. This leaves nothing leftover to pay for the help needed to properly address the hundreds of inquiries from inmates that pour into OIP. As a result, OIP is dependent on the volunteers and students who graciously give their time to help those that are not in a position to help themselves. I was able to devote all of my energy to the Oregon Innocence Project this summer because I had the honor of receiving a PILP stipend. Without it, I doubt I would have been able to take an unpaid position, and I would have missed out on being a part of this amazing organization.
For the duration of the summer, I was tasked with writing a significant portion of a brief in support of a client’s federal habeas corpus petition. This was both frustrating and incredible as I was attempting to wade through one of the most complicated areas of federal law after completing only one year of law school. At times, I felt completely overwhelmed, but I found mentorship with my supervising attorneys and the volunteer attorneys that were constantly present in the office. Advice and debate with the other students could be counted on for inspiration and illumination. Whenever the complexities of habeas law seemed to be too much, there was always an open door and an open ear where I could have my questions answered and my anxieties soothed. In the end, the experience has sparked an interest in pursuing criminal defense as a career path, and has shown me the light at the end of the deep dark tunnel that is law school. This is what it’s all for. The brief I wrote is being filed in federal court in the coming months, and our client’s future hangs in the balance.
I feel that I learned more this summer than I did in class all year, and the work I did mattered. The words that filled page after page were not empty exercises in legal writing. There’s a living, breathing person whose entire life hangs on every word, and I was entrusted with writing those words. Having the opportunity to contribute in such a meaningful way to a client’s case is not something I ever considered when looking for my first summer job, and I don’t think such an opportunity would have been given to me if I had been precluded from taking an unpaid position with OIP because I couldn’t afford it. Words cannot express my gratitude for the experience the PILP stipend enabled me to have this summer, and I can’t wait to continue my path toward public service.