Give Young Lawyers Practical Skills Through Public Service

Volume 37, Number 1

by

Melissa J. Healy is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate and an Associate in the Portland, Oregon, office of Barran Liebman.

The Oregon New Lawyers Division (ONLD) recently launched its “Practical Skills Through Public Service Program” (PSPS) to help new attorneys within the state tackle their most pressing challenge: how to begin a successful legal career in the current economic climate. NALP’s recently released employment report shows that only 87.6% of 2010 law school graduates are employed and an even smaller percentage (68.4%) are working in jobs that require bar passage. These statistics are unsurprising to many given that in recent years law firms have decreased or eliminated summer associate programs, local governments have reduced staff because of budget cuts, and nonprofits have experienced declines in donations and government funding.

With the number of available legal positions at a historic low, PSPS is designed to give inexperienced and unemployed volunteer attorneys the opportunity to receive training and perform pro bono legal work through participating government agencies and nonprofit organizations. To that end, the program links participants to (1) existing opportunities with legal aid programs that provide basic civil and family law representation and (2) new opportunities with criminal representation organizations. The program also offers free subject-specific CLE sessions for participants through either the ONLD or participating agencies.

Combating the Problem
Ben and David Eder, twin brothers who practice in the Portland, Oregon, area, worked with two other ONLD leaders to implement PSPS. They began brainstorming about the program after noticing that, in large part because of the difficult job market, an unprecedented number of new attorneys were being forced to open solo practices. These attorneys were then practicing law with little or no guidance or training, and without the benefit of professional aid. PSPS aims to combat this problem by giving new attorneys valuable work experience as it provides legal representation to populations in need. Experienced practitioners at participating agencies provide mentorship and oversee the legal services the volunteer provides to ensure they are of high quality.

ONLD representatives met with state bar leaders, the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, and a variety of other state judges and lawyers in developing the project. They also set up lunch meetings, paid for with ONLD funds, with the heads of participating agencies in the initial stages of the project. Later, the representatives solicited local firms and raised approximately $1,000 to help with the costs of CLEs, a welcome reception, and publicity.

The ONLD publicized the program through word of mouth and also sent emails to all new Oregon attorneys. Around 40 applications were received for the first round of the program, which kicked off in July, and all applicants were placed with the exception of one attorney who was not licensed to practice in Oregon. Approximately half of the participants are attorneys who have been out of school for at least one year and at least two are from out of state. Many others are attorneys who passed the summer 2010 bar exam. All were required to submit a cover letter of interest, a resume, and a ranking of participating agencies.

Participating Agencies

Current participating agencies include:
•   Beaverton City Attorney’s Office: Volunteers perform a mix of civil and criminal work including court appearances, jury trial preparation, and compliance-minded review of bylaws.
•   Salem City Attorney’s Office: Volunteers perform a mix of civil and criminal work including motion drafting, trial preparation, and discovery review.
•   Juvenile Rights Project: Volunteers work on a variety of matters, in areas such as delinquency and dependency, to assist the JRP in its mission to serve children, youth, and parents.
•   Legal Aid Services of Oregon: Volunteers perform civil work in one of seven clinics, covering diverse areas of law such as domestic violence, bankruptcy, and tax.
•   Metropolitan Public Defender and Multnomah Defenders Inc.: Volunteers perform criminal work including trial preparation, court appearances, plea negotiations, and trial work.
•   St. Andrew’s Legal Clinic: Volunteers work on a variety of family law matters including child custody, child support, divorce, guardianship, paternity, and spousal support.

Future Opportunity

The weekly time commitment varies per project, and the ultimate duration of the program is unknown as the first round is still ongoing. “So far, [PSPS] has received great feedback from around the bar and legal community,” Ben Eder stated. He highlighted the experience of the program’s test subject, who started with the Metropolitan Public Defender over four months ago. The participant, who runs a solo criminal practice, received his first opportunity through PSPS to cross-examine a witness and handle a closing argument.

Eder hopes that in the future, the PSPS program will add additional participating organizations such as the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the federal public defender, and the District Attorney’s offices.

At the Annual Meeting in Toronto this past August, the ABA YLD Awards of Achievement recognized the Oregon New Lawyers Division with the “Outstanding Project for Service to the Bar” award for its project, “Practical Skills Through Public Service”
If you would like more information about PSPS, please contact Ben at eder.ben@gmail.com.

 

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