Alumni Spotlight: Nikki Robbins ‘03
April 16, 2010
NCVLI catches up with alumna Nikki Robbins ’03.
Nikki Robbins has long had an interest in helping victims of crime. In fact, the legal issues that survivors of domestic violence face were what inspired her to go to law school. “I volunteered at the Portland Women’s Crisis Line. I was there for a little bit over 3 years and during my time there, it became apparent to me that there was a lot lacking in legal assistance for domestic violence victims. And granted, when you’re at the Crisis Line, you only deal with the immediate crisis, but it became apparent when talking to the women who would call repeatedly that nothing was changing and that more needed to be done to help with the problems they had either leaving their spouse or getting some sort of assistance. And so that’s what inspired me to go to law school.”
Nikki says that she got hooked up with NCVLI soon after starting at Lewis & Clark Law School. At the time, NCVLI was in its infancy and the Crime Victim Litigation Clinic hadn’t been formally launched. “My first year, I told someone about my interest in helping domestic violence victims and they referred me to Professor Doug Beloof [Professor Beloof is the founder of NCVLI, and now sits on its Board of Directors]. So I was linked up with him almost immediately in my first semester, and then I worked as a research assistant for him the summer after my first year of law school. Then the clinic started in my second year of law school, and I got my second exposure to crime victims’ rights by interning with NCVLI.”
After law school, Nikki worked as a Deputy District Attorney in the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office for five years and was cross-designated as a Special Assistant United States Attorney during her time there. She tried over 50 jury trials and worked on Multnomah County Sheriff’s drug trafficking Special Investigations Unit in her work with the US Attorney’s office. Of course, as a district attorney representing the interest of the people, victims’ rights didn’t always impact her daily work, but it did impact her knowledge of what was available for victims.
Nikki moved into private practice at the Law Office of Erin Olson, P.C., just over a year ago. The firm is a Portland law firm specializing in the representation of crime victims in civil and criminal cases. “The criminal world is very fast paced, and you’re in trial a lot, so I think I was looking for a little bit of a change of pace. I was referred to Erin, who also used to work at Multnomah County, so I contacted her and met with her. Erin described what her practice involved, and I thought that that would be something that I would be interested in doing because it would still feel like I’m still working on behalf of somebody. If I was going to ever leave criminal and do something different, this is something that I would be interested in and want to be a part of.” Nikki says that in her new position in which she works for victims of crimes such as child abuse and elder abuse, victims’ rights impact her work in a big way.
Although it has been a big transition, Nikki is enjoying working with victims in her new position. “It’s very different, but it’s also nice to know that your work is on behalf of this particular person. It makes you care about your cases a little bit more because you know it’s directly impacting this particular person. Now that’s not always true, but I came from doing drug cases, where the victim is really just the community at large. And so, you don’t really necessarily feel that what you’re doing is having the same impact as when you’re working with one particular person who can tell you how this has helped them, how this has changed them.”
When asked about the change from criminal to civil work, Nikki remarked, “The biggest challenge for me, coming from the criminal world, is dealing with the civil discovery process. In criminal procedure, anything that the prosecution has, the Brady rule requires you to share with the defense. In other words, in a criminal case, anything I have gets turned over. In the civil world, you have to word something just right to get the document.”
Nikki has done some pro bono work during her time at Erin Olson, P.C., and has enjoyed that tremendously. “One case in particular was a case in Washington County in which the defense attorney was subpoenaing DHS files. The files were not actually the victim’s, but those of the victim’s mother. We did a motion to quash and the judge granted it, so they weren’t entitled to see that information because it didn’t have any bearing on the criminal case. And that was nice and the woman was very grateful.”
Nikki’s advice for current law students who are passionate about victims’ rights: “Get out there and volunteer and help out. That’s the only way you’re going to see 1) if this is the type of work you want to do and 2) what type of work there is to do. We’ve done everything from helping someone with a contested restraining order, which is a one-day hearing, all the way to a trial involving the wrongful death of an inmate who committed suicide for failure to provide mental health treatment, which has taken months of preparation.”
Nikki encourages other alumni to try pro bono work. “I think pro bono work is something that every attorney should do. None of us have a lot of time, but it’s rewarding and it’s necessary, and so even if you do just one case a year, that’s one person who got helped who wouldn’t have otherwise.”