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March 26, 2007

2007 State Bar Pro Bono Award: Oregon law students win with more than 11,200 hours

2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007  

Oregon takes home six awards

in six years for pro bono work 

Law students help women prisoners, hurricane victims, 
Haiti democracy project and more
jane Steckbeck accepts Oregon State Bar Pro Bono awardUniversity of Oregon law students responded to local calls for help by teaching youth offenders about the law, helping high school students recognize domestic violence, and finding refunds for low income tax filers. 

They went further afield to advise women inmates on divorce and custody at Coffee Creek state prison in Wilsonville, helped Gulf Coast hurricane victims get FEMA aid, and worked on restoring a constitutional democracy to Haiti.
The result? The sixth straight win for Oregon in the annual Oregon State Bar Pro Bono Challenge, which recognizes individual lawyers, law firms, and law students for their free legal help to the poor and disadvantaged. UO law students reported 11, 277 volunteer hours, or nearly three-quarters of the state total for all law schools this year.

Pro Bono faculty chair Jane Steckbeck  said, “We are setting a high standard for law school pro bono in Oregon. And it doesn’t stop here – this strong service ethic carries forward once the students become lawyers. It makes a difference to those we call “the under-served “- those who simply can’t find or afford legal help when they need it.” She is pictured above with Oregon State Bar President Albert Menashe, who presented the award to the law school in April.

One of the participants, third-year law student Katina Saint Marie, has been helping inmates at Coffee Creek with child custody and divorce issues for over a year. “The women were friendly and welcoming and wondered how they were ever going to access the family law services they desperately needed. I learned a great deal about women and men in prison, how they get there, and what becomes of their families— I also learned that giving people reason to hope they can reunite with family and children is one of the best rehabilitation tools we have.”

Erin Fair packed up her house on Napoleon Street in New Orleans for law school in Eugene three weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005.  “Along with the rest of the country, I watched in horror as the city filled with water, leaving neighbors homeless. Then I watched as lack of preparation, lack of resources, and pure neglect left the same neighbors hopeless. ”

She and ten other law students put their new legal skills to work over spring break 2006 as they traveled south to offer everything from gathering information about prisoners, to helping people with FEMA benefits to monitoring polling stations during local elections.

Second-year law student Amber Munger spent time in Haiti several years ago, and the experience goaded her to work with Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti during the summer break. The U.S. -based organization researches and files claims in US courts and international tribunals aimed at restoring a constitutional democracy to Haiti and adjudicating human rights claims.  It works closely with Haitian partner Bureau des Advocates Internationaux (BAI) to file claims in Haitian courts on behalf of political prisoners and others whose constitutional and human rights are being violated.

Munger is passionate about the work of the institute and intends to work in Port Au Prince next summer. “I’ve gained a much greater appreciation and interest in economic, social and cultural rights work—such as making sure that juveniles in the Haitian justice system get the right to basic education. It doesn’t get the media attention of blatant human rights violations such as torture, but real change for developing countries starts with these issues.”


Street Law is a student-led program that offers straightforward and practical legal education to community members. In response to the brutal domestic-violence related murder of Eugene resident Kelly Supanchick in December, 2005, law students put together new Street Law groups on battering and abuse. One uses mock trials to teach high school students about domestic violence and family law. Another other teaches UO undergraduates about the signs of violence in intimate relationships and how to get help.

In response to a call for help, other students started teaching adolescents at the Serbu Youth Center about their legal rights and responsibilities.

The Pro Bono program has sponsored free income tax preparation help for low income filers since 1999 – often finding earned income or child care credits that can mean money back for their clients. This year, more than forty law students again joined business students to host the service on campus. 

UO law students also worked on environmental issues for Riverkeeper, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands, Center for Tribal Water Advocacy, the Western Environmental Law Center and Goal One Coalition, an Oregon citizen’s group working on sustainable land use issues.  They worked with veterans at the Veteran’s Affairs Office of Regional Counsel, and for children’s rights at the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center and Juvenile Rights Project.  They also volunteered many hours at district attorney, public defender and legal aid offices.

-Eliza Schmidkunz 

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