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Public Interest Law Project

Theo Erde-Wollheim

September 30, 2017

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Metropolitan Public Defender Hillsboro

This summer I had the privilege of working as a Certified Law Student for Metropolitan Public Defender Services’ Hillsboro office.  MPD is a non-profit law firm that serves as the primary public defense contractor in both Multnomah and Washington Counties. As the de facto public defenders in Washington County, MPD handles indigent defense for all criminal charges. As a nonprofit law firm, all of the organization’s resources are devoted to providing as many zealous advocates as possible to represent clients. While MPD maximizes the minimal resources they have, there is always a need for more help. This is where the Certified Law Student Program steps in. I was able to devote all of my energy and time to my clients at MPD this summer because I was honored with a PILP award. Without it, there is no doubt in my mind that I would not have been able to take an unpaid position, and I would have missed out on a unique and highly beneficial opportunity.

For the duration of the summer I had the opportunity to serve as a misdemeanor attorney, albeit with a slightly reduced case load. This meant that, although I operated under my supervising attorney’s bar number, I was the assigned representative for an average of 20 clients at any given moment. MPD has a well-established CLS program, which includes enough training to ensure that we could handle the cases we received. That being said, as with everything else in the legal system, it’s one thing to read about something or watch someone else do it, and another to be responsible for doing it on your own. Because of the fast pace the office moves at, it was very much a sink or swim environment. Luckily, all of the attorneys in the office made sure I knew their door was open to answer any and all questions. In the end, the experience only deepened my budding passion for criminal defense as a career path and has shown me the light at the end of the long dark tunnel that is law school. I’ve had the opportunity to stand in front of a judge and make arguments that have resulted in my clients avoiding criminal sanctions.

I feel that the experience I gained this summer taught me more than any class ever could. Combine that with the direct impact I had on my clients’ lives, and I feel the work I did mattered. This was no longer moot arguments in front of a professor with no outcome other than my grade. These were living, breathing people who depended on me to fight for them. The fact that the PILP stipend allowed me this opportunity is not lost on me, and I cannot express in words the gratitude I feel towards the organizations and its generous donors. 

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