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Legal Ducks in Public Service: How Oregon Law Assists Students and Graduates in Pursuit of Justice—and How You Can Help

By Jane Steckbeck, Associate Director for Public Service Initiatives

University of Oregon School of Law graduates pursue public service careers at a level well above the national average of 25 percent; from the classes of 2005 through 2011, an average of 45 percent of Oregon Law graduates accepted public service positions. Predictably, while in law school, students accept public service positions in large numbers—many of which are unpaid.

A conservative estimate of an Oregon Law graduates’ average indebtedness is $94,000. As a result, without assistance neither students nor graduates can afford to take public service positions important to helping low income individuals meet their most basic needs—even if that is the work they most want to do.

Legal Ducks in Public Service refers to three programs that assist public-minded students in alleviating financial pressures while pursuing and remaining in the work they love. This article reviews each program and indicates how you can help Legal Ducks in Public Service.

Oregon Law Student Public Interest Fund (OLSPIF)

“Were it not for an OLSPIF stipend, my own concerns for practicality may have prohibited me from gaining experience in the field I love, with a population I am passionate about—children and youth desperately in need of legal counsel. I am incredibly grateful to OLSPIF and to its contributors for the opportunity.”
-Shira Zucker, San Francisco Public Defender, Juvenile Unit, OLSPIF Stipend Recipient, Summer 2012

The Oregon Law Student Public Interest Fund provides annual summer stipends to law students for unpaid summer public service positions. The current stipend amount is $3,000, which for many students does not cover minimal expenses. OLSPIF has funded over 180 students in its 22 years of activity.

In the early 1990s, a group of law students started OLSPIF to raise funds so that their peers could accept public service summer employment that otherwise would be unpaid. The first OLSPIF Auction was in 1994, sparking a long and successful tradition of spirited fundraising. With strong student, faculty and community support, the OLSPIF Auction enjoys a rich history of success with Oregon Law students dedicating thousands of hours working in service positions. Until fall 2010, OLSPIF students operated OLSPIF without administrative or budgetary support.

Since moving the auction to the Eugene Country Club in 2011, OLSPIF has had two record-breaking fundraising years (15 stipends in 2011 and 16 in 2012), and has seen resurgence in attorney and faculty participation in the OLSPIF auction. OLSPIF is now exploring the possibility of establishing an endowment to ensure the long-term health of stipend funding.

With greater numbers of attorneys attending the auction, OLSPIF is working to upgrade its auction offerings. Especially popular donations include: vacation properties with travel and restaurant allowances or gift certificates, high-end wine donations to our Wall of Wine, adventure experiences such as group raft trips and athletic tickets with Duck gear donations.

To learn more about OLSPIF’s Summer 2012 Stipend Recipients, visit the OLSPIF website. To donate an item or otherwise support OLSPIF, contact Jane Steckbeck, Associate Director Public Service Initiatives, at jsteckbe@uoregon.edu.

Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP)

“The LRAP Program has been a big part of helping to ensure that I can afford to keep doing the kind of work I love. With law school loans, it can be hard to stick to your principles and do the kind of work you believe in. LRAP can really change that struggle.”
-Robert Kaiser, Public Defender Services of Lane County, LRAP Recipient, 2011-2012

The Loan Repayment Assistance Program provides forgivable loans up to $5,000 annually to graduates in qualifying public service positions for up to three years—which provides vital financial support enabling graduates to do the work they believe in.

Since 2006, the LRAP program has funded 28 law graduates in a range of public service jobs, including civil legal services, public defenders, district attorneys, environmental law, international human rights and judicial clerkships. In 2012, the program funded twelve of fifteen applicants.

Oregon Law deeply appreciates its LRAP donors because their generosity has profound ripple effects: a graduate with crushing debt gets to do the work they find so meaningful, and through that work they help clients through extraordinarily difficult situations. To learn more about our current LRAP recipients and their work, visit the LRAP website, and watch this LRAP video. For information on donating to LRAP, contact Jake Logan, Senior Director of Development, at jdlogan@uoregon.edu.

Post-Graduate Fellowship Program/Bridge Grants

Graduates pursuing public service work face an additional challenge not experienced in the private sector: most public service employers will not make offers of employment until after bar passage. As such, the public service job seeker will often experience a longer job search in a very tight market. In addition, unlike the private sector, volunteering for employers of interest can be an effective strategy for getting hired.

In 2006, Oregon Law’s Career Center began awarding three month Post-Graduate Fellowships to graduates volunteering for public service employers.

Graduates and employers commit to three months of employment at .5 FTE, and the law school pays $3,000 to the graduate. To date, the Dean’s Fund provides all funding for Post-Graduate Fellowships. Since 2006, the Career Center has awarded between four and 12 Fellowships annually.

To learn more about the Post-Graduate Fellowship Program, please contact Bonnie Williams in the Career Center, at bonniew@uoregon.edu; to donate to the Post-Graduate Fellowship Program, contact Jake Logan, Senior Director of Development, at jdlogan@uoregon.edu.

Oregon Law’s commitment to its public service mission is strong. Through the support given to OLSPIF, LRAP and the Post-Graduate Fellowship Programs, Oregon Law’s students and graduates receive vital assistance that enables them to remain committed to public service career paths, notwithstanding extraordinary financial pressures. Please join us in supporting our future public service leaders.

Oregon Law » Oregon Lawyer Online » Autumn 2012 » Legal Ducks in Public Service: How Oregon Law Assists Students and Graduates in Pursuit of Justice—and How You Can Help
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