Shelley Aschenbrenner, Metropolitan Public Defender, Hillsboro
LRAP Program 2013
Shelley Aschenbrenner’s extraordinary dedication to public service earned her the Nicole Richardson Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award, an annual award given to a student who has performed substantial pro bono work, and is committed to a career serving the underprivileged, particularly indigent criminal defendants. While Shelley’s pro bono work exposed her to many different clients in need, her summer externship with the Metropolitan Public Defender gave her certainty that public defense was her career path.
As a new public defender, Shelley “cannot think of a position [she’d] rather be in.” “I feel like I’m fighting the good fight—like I am making a difference in working in public defense.” In her position, Shelley works “exclusively with low-income criminal defendants. In just a few months, I’ve become more aware of how challenging this system can be for anyone accused of committing a crime. I strive to provide as much assistance to them as I can.”
Notwithstanding Shelley’s passion for her work, “[m]aking ends meet on a public defender’s salary can be a challenge,” yet loan forgiveness programs such as Oregon Law’s LRAP help her “continue to do what [she] loves.”
Tom Borton, Metropolitan Public Defender, Hillsboro
LRAP Program 2011, 2012, 2013
Tom Borton’s single-minded pursuit of a career in public defense developed long before law school, when he accepted a legal assistant position at the Metropolitan Public Defender in Portland. After three years on the job, he reports, “I loved the work and decided to go to law school to become a public defender and hopefully return to the office as an attorney.”
Wasting no time in developing his skills as a defender, Tom worked for two years at the Public Defender Services of Lane County during law school, and defended clients through the law school’s defense clinic. After receiving a post-graduate fellowship through the law school to work for the Metropolitan Public Defender for three months, Tom joined the office in September of 2010 to handle juvenile dependency and delinquency representation.
Tom anticipates a long career as a defender: “I have no doubt that I will be practicing indigent defense for the foreseeable future. This is the job that brought me to law school and I am thrilled to be back, now working as an attorney. I can’t imagine any other job in the legal field that could be as fulfilling, exciting, demanding, or rewarding.”
Tom represents parents and children in crisis. "Having your child removed from your custody is one of the most painful things that can happen to a person. I think most parents would rather go to jail themselves than have a child placed in foster care. And for the children I represent in these cases, it can be an extremely confusing and traumatizing experience. The children charged with crimes face an equally intimidating system with life-long consequences. Without the resources to hire an attorney, parents and children would be absolutely lost."
The LRAP program allows Tom the breathing room he needs to focus on his work. "With over $120,000 in student loans, my monthly payments are a huge source of anxiety in my life. In fact, lots of my clients make more money than I do. While my financial situation doesn't make me question my choice of work for a minute, it is stressful. The LRAP loan helps me make those payments, but it also provides support and encouragement to push on."
Allison Folks, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services
LRAP Program 2013
Travel and study in impoverished countries instilled a public service ethic in Allison Folks at a very young age. Before attending law school, Allison “advocated for immigrants and refugees as a volunteer and intern with the African Women’s Coalition,” which cemented a passion for “working with immigrants and refugees.”
During law school, Allison worked for two summers with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services (CCILS), and received an offer after graduation to join the firm. In her work, Allison works with low-income, highly vulnerable immigrants, including “victims of crimes, abuse and human trafficking.” She envisions developing her expertise “on aiding immigrant victims in obtaining legal status,” and is working to build community support for immigrants by educating law enforcement about the particular vulnerabilities of this population.
Allison’s commitment to her work and her obvious passion is inspiring: “I know that I will be able to have a long and exciting career with CCILS because I am passionate about the work that they do…I will continue to serve underrepresented populations throughout my legal career. I know that I have a meaningful role to play in fighting for justice for immigrants.”
With a combination of law school, undergraduate and private loans, the LRAP Program is giving Allison the ability to do meaningful work and make ends meet. In Allison’s words, “I went to law school with the intention of doing public service work upon graduation.” Oregon Law’s LRAP Program is an important part of making Allison’s goals a reality.
Joshua Medina, Center for Non-Profit Legal Services, Inc.
LRAP Program 2013
After a yearlong job search for a public interest attorney position, Joshua Medina is realizing a long-term goal of helping members of the immigrant community as an Immigration project attorney.
His work “now consists of family based immigration cases, VAWA cases for victims of abuse, U-Visa cases for individuals who assist in the prosecution of crimes and Deferred Action cases for young individuals who are pursuing their educations and helping their families.”
Joshua’s work also includes community education, giving him the opportunity to “connect with and earn the trust of [his] community.” He sees a much broader role for his work in the future: “I would love to some day incorporate my work into a community farm project, which would increase food security and inject migrant workers into the stream of commerce. This would include assisting workers with general business education, contract assistance, and information sessions.”
Dedicated to service for life, Joshua’s student loan debt is an ever-present concern. He reports that at times, “I worry because I will not have enough income to pay all of my bills, even with this position.” The LRAP assistance is giving Joshua the ability to do the work he loves, serving his community, with far less financial worry.
John Mellgren, Western Environmental Law Center, Eugene, OR
LRAP Recipient 2012, 2013
John Mellgren has devoted his life to the pursuit of a career in public interest, specifically related to environmental law. During law school, John demonstrated his dedication to this goal by interning for Fiscalia del Medio Ambiente, an environmental law nonprofit organization located in Santiago, Chile; externing for the Oregon Attorney General where he worked on a variety of environmental actions; and working for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental litigation organization. Following the bar exam, John spent several months working for Our Children’s Trust, an organization that works to protect the atmosphere from further degradation.
John has succeeded in obtaining his dream job and is now working as a project attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) Wildlands Program where he litigates to protect and preserve forests, rivers, wildlife habitat, and wilderness areas in the West to ensure their health and survival for future generations.
With WELC, John is embarking on what he plans will be “a long and rewarding career representing nonprofit organizations and community groups in their pursuit to protect, preserve, and enhance our natural environment. It is my plan to continue working for WELC, doing this same work, for as long as I am capable of doing so.
Although my law school debt load is a serious consideration that has always been in the back of my mind, with recent loan incentives for public interest work and the University of Oregon LRAP program, this burden can be significantly eased, enabling me to continue to pursue my passion of protecting the environment. I look forward to building my career in the public interest and to working with various community groups to do so. I know that without the support of the University of Oregon School of Law, I would have never been able to make this a reality, and with the support of the University of Oregon LRAP program, I can continue to make this dream a reality.”
Jia Min Cheng, Attorney and Legal Director, San Francisco Medical-Legal Partnership (SFMLP) at Bay Area Legal Aid
LRAP Program 2012, 2013
Jia Min Cheng has been nurturing her dream of becoming a lawyer since she was a child: “Through the years my vision for my career has evolved, but one thing that has remained constant in my vision is that I wanted to be able to help protect people as a lawyer.”
Originally interested in protecting the public as a prosecutor, she eventually developed an interest in human rights law: “I was captivated by the idea of doing human rights law, and of collaborating with state and local authorities to remedy harms done to the most vulnerable populations.” Jia Min nurtured this interest with experience at International Educational Development, the National Housing Law Project, and Bay Area Legal Aid.
Jia Min now serves as the SFMLP’s sole staff attorney: “I conduct trainings for the medical care providers and other community-based organizations in order to build relationships and garner support for the MLP.”
Jia Min also works directly with the SFMLP’s clientele – even attempting to learn Spanish to better serve them. In this capacity, she screens families in the San Francisco General Hospital pediatric asthma clinic for health-affecting legal issues. She advises these clients on their legal rights; when appropriate, she helps enforce their legal rights, and secures housing transfers or repairs.
Of her experience with the SFMLP, Jia Min says, “I have learned that although there are many systemic problems that plague low-income persons in San Francisco, we can effect some improvement in the lot of our clients.”
The LRAP grant has been a tremendous help to Jia Min, and her family, as she pursues her work with the SFMLP: "The LRAP grant has really been the final push toward financial independence from my parents since the loan payments hanging over my head were quite high.” She continues, “my family's situation has improved in that they don't have to dip into their savings in order to provide for all their children and help me with my loans.”
Andrew Orahoske, Conservation Director, Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC)
LRAP program 2012, 2013
Andrew Orahoske’s roots in environmental activism extend far beyond his current position. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Biology, with a specialization in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, he went on to work as a field biologist – a position that influenced his decision to attend law school. Andrew writes of this experience, “[u]nder the attorney’s supervision, I completed a petition to list two Caribbean coral species under the [Endangered Species Act], assisted in the preparation of expert declarations and attended oral arguments in federal court.”
During and after law school, Andrew continued working on public interest environmental law projects. He has worked and volunteered for groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Island Institute, and Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide.
Now at EPIC, Andrew uses his legal education in his day-to-day duties as Conservation Director; he oversees EPIC’s legal and policy work, including strategy development for the protection of forests, rivers, and biological diversity.
Andrew plans to continue this work for the foreseeable future: “I intend to push for new groundbreaking legal challenges in federal and state courts that will fundamentally change the current paradigm that places private profits ahead of all else. EPIC has a long history as a scrappy environmental group that never gives up or compromises, and I intend to continue this tradition.” However, he notes that working in the environmental non-profit sector pays very little. The LRAP grant helps him keep up his educational debt payments and keep his head above water while he does this good work.
Tim Ream, Staff Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity’s Endangered Species Program
LRAP program 2012, 2013
Tim Ream hates to lose. As Staff Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, he works to win courtroom battles on behalf of the Earth: “Through a combination of cutting edge law, science, and media work, the Center has won protection and habitat for so many species.” His projects there include litigation to protect the Earth’s climate by stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, and prevent the spread of bat white-nose syndrome among western caves.
Even before joining the Center for Biological Diversity, Tim spent more than two decades working for the public interest. Tim’s diverse experience includes stints as: a Peace Corps science teacher in Lesotho; Environmental Protection Specialist for the Environmental Protection Agency; and, grassroots organizer for forest protection and anti-corporate globalization campaigns. In Tim’s words, “public interest work is what I do and what I will always do. I didn’t go to law school to become a lawyer. I went to become a more effective environmental activist.”
Tim's LRAP grant helps him balance the cost of living in San Francisco, his law school debt, and his “activist’s salary.” Although this hasn’t been easy, Tim admits that he is exactly where he wants to be. As he says, “There is a big team working to make [public interest] law possible and I am glad to be on the team.”
Nicholas Reynolds, Judicial Clerk, King County Superior Court
LRAP Program, 2013
Nicholas Reynolds was raised in a tight-knit Catholic community where public service was viewed as a responsibility for all. As a result of positive leadership and dedicated role models in his youth, Nicholas held numerous public service positions before and during law school—setting a very natural pathway into a legal career in service.
Though certain of his goal to work in public service, it was a personal tragedy—the death of his college roommate at the hands of an alleged drunk driver—that cemented his intent to become a prosecuting attorney. A shockingly short sentence due to insufficient evidence deepened his conviction that he has an important role as a future advocate for victims of violent crimes.
Nicholas’ judicial clerkship “has been an incredible experience thus far and has reaffirmed [his] commitment to serving the public interest.” In Nicholas’ words: “Being in the courtroom for hearings of all different varieties keeps me grounded and reminds me of the staggering depth of legal authority” vested in the courts. As important, with the valuable training he is receiving into the court system, Nicholas has set a clear goal of working “within a unit of the criminal division that represents the State against perpetrators of violent crimes.”
With substantial student loan debt, Oregon Law’s LRAP program is helping Nicholas pursue his dreams with less financial stress.