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Public Interest Law Project

Erin Duncan

June 01, 2012

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Oregon Law Center

My PILP stipend this summer allowed me to spend ten weeks working with the Oregon Law Center’s central support office in downtown Portland. OLC is a legal aid organization that provides civil legal services to low-income Oregonians. With the help of great attorney mentors, I was able to contribute to OLC’s mission in numerous ways. Many of my projects revolved around housing justice. For example, I drafted a trial memo for a client who had requested a reasonable accommodation as a defense to eviction (a case that later settled) and I interviewed witnesses and drafted a BOLI complaint for a client who had been discriminated against in her housing on the basis of sex. I also reviewed and analyzed evidence in a class action housing case to help determine the appropriate remedy.

In addition to these housing cases, I spent a lot of time working with clients and their witnesses to represent the clients as a certified law student in court. In one hearing I obtained more parenting time for a client, and in another I continued a restraining order for a victim of domestic violence. I also drafted a brief that was submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims on a veteran’s disability benefits claim and wrote research memos on a number of issues that will benefit clients and the organization in the future, including research related to arbitration agreements in a wage claim case, research into local ordinances for a homeless rights case, research into illegal detention of undocumented persons in local jails, and research into service animals as reasonable accommodations for fair housing cases.

The attorneys at Oregon Law Center gave me a lot of responsibility to work on cases and develop my skills, and they also offered moments of teaching and chances to connect with the community – these included visits to the Supreme Court of Oregon in Salem, Ninth Circuit oral arguments, and visits to Dignity Village (a self-sustaining non-profit encampment created by the homeless and recognized by the city of Portland) and JOIN (an organization that provides direct housing services and homeless advocacy in Portland).

All of these experiences deepened my understanding of public interest advocacy and my desire to use my law degree to advocate for the marginalized and underprivileged in our society. I also found that I enjoy trial work more than I thought I would, and that I can calmly handle difficult facts with both empathy and professionalism. I benefited both professionally and personally from PILP’s generous support, and I know I also benefited OLC with my contributions to the organization’s important work. I hope this summer will be a stepping stone to doing similar work in the future as an attorney.

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