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March 18, 2005

CONNECTIONS: Law students give back to the community

Law students give back to the community

From helping with a missed disability check to drafting a complex conservation easement, answering high schoolers’ constitutional law questions to big city indigent defense…. UO law students take their pro bono work seriously.

For the fourth year in a row, UO law students have won the Oregon State Bar’s annual student award for pro bono hours performed. Here are some of their stories:


Search and Seizure 

University of Oregon law student Jeremy Dickman plans to work as a public defender next year after graduation. Anything that will get me in the courtroom! he says.

Meanwhile, he’s been drilling constitutional rights into high school students he hopes will never be his clients.

Dickman, who worked with Street Law as his pro bono contribution, has been working hard this year to energize the law school’s community education and outreach effort. Street Law teams present easy-to-understand one-hour seminars about basic legal rights to people who may have difficulty finding the information elsewhere.

This year, Street Law held at least two sessions on search and seizure law at four area high schools South Eugene, North Eugene, Marist and Churchill.

We stick to the typical stop and frisk, reasonable suspicion aspects of the Fourth Amendment, Dickman says. We’re working with juniors and seniors, so we discuss traffic stops and drug cases. They like being considered adults, and telling them about their constitutional rights gives them a feeling of adulthood.

The Street Law group has developed innovative ways to communicate constitutional law in digestible format. We get the kids up in front of the class and role play traffic stops using desks and chairs. At Churchill, we held two mock jury selections. Dickman said.

Dickman said Street Law now has a track record and a number of new teacher contacts, and he hopes it will become a more significant player in the community.

Walk Ins

 We’re a pretty privileged bunch here at school, so it’s good to expose ourselves to a part of the community that most of us have never seen before, says David Eisenberg, a third year law student from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Eisenberg has been thoroughly exposed.

Since the summer after his first year of law school, he has worked, steadily and without fanfare, on the intake desk at Lane County Legal Aid Services, the front line on civil issues for Lane County’s poor.

 Intake is a great experience, he says, essentially, it’s an initial interview and you get practice interacting with potential clients, identifying issues and refining your interview techniques.

Clients come to the door with a host of concerns – landlord/tenant, family law or immigration problems, income emergencies with food stamps, disability or social security. Credit card debt is another one, or contracts for crappy used cars or mobile homes, Eisenberg says.

He knows Legal Aid can’t help everyone, so he has been developing his client counseling skills as well. I talk to them about what options they have, maybe the sorts of things not just legal- they should be thinking about when they make decisions.

After graduation, Eisenberg would like to keep doing work just like this, although he worries about the mismatch between low paying public service work and high law student debts.

Legal Aid is a blast! You get exposed to managing a case, rather than focusing on research and writing memos, he says. Anyway, if I don’t get to do this full time, I’ll certainly keep doing it pro bono.

Change of Venue 

In 2002, Cheri Brooks, a longtime Eugene writer and editor, was facing an empty nest. Time for a change.

That fall, her daughter, Jade, began her senior year of high school and Brooks entered the University of Oregon School of Law.

Three years later, Brooks has clocked 480 pro bono hours at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and is considering a permanent public defender job in Philadelphia.

She was serious about change.

During her summer in Washington, she helped with two jury trials, drafted pre-trial motions and other documents, did field investigation, met with clients and researched a number of legal topics.

The D.C. public defender’s office is considered a model, said Brooks. It’s a wonderful public service agency. I was exposed to fantastic lawyers and I worked with law student interns from all over the country who shared my interest in indigent defense work.

Easing the Way

During the summer of 2004, Kate Drewry, a third-year law student from Los Angeles, worked at the Nature Conservancy in Portland as the legal intern in the protection department.

The Oregon chapter of the international conservation organization  claims success in helping protect over 480,000 acres of plant and wildlife habitat in the state, including the Willow Creek wet prairie in Eugene, sites near West Linn and Stayton, in the Sandy River Gorge, and other places near Portland and in the Willamette Valley.

One of the Conservancy’s methods of preserving habitat is through private land conservation forming alliances with landowners, businesses and the community and using tools such as land trusts, conservation easements, private reserves and incentives. Drewry revised and rewrote Nature Conservancy conservation easements for contract negotiations with particular landowners.
Throughout the summer, she assisted with all aspects of conservation real estate and conservation easement acquisition

 In general, I did a lot of research and writing on a number of conservation and agricultural assistance programs as well as forest protection and watershed enhancement. I answered legal questions that arose in the course of these land deals.

Drewry plans on pursuing a career in conservation real estate.
RELATED STORY: UO law students win state pro bono awards for the fourth year in a row

-Eliza Schmidkunz


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