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Law staff member named to national advisory committee on public interest law

October 11, 2010

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    Photo courtesy of Ednah Louie

Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee

Bill Penn J.D. ’02, public interest law coordinator, has been appointed to serve on the Equal Justice Works National Advisory Committee. Equal Justice Works is a national nonprofit organization that promotes public interest law programs at law schools across the nation and helps students and attorneys support public interest work through paid internships, loan repayment assistance programs, and pro bono opportunities.

Public interest law is the practice of law pursued on behalf of individuals, the public, and causes that are not typically served by the for-profit sector, such as nonprofit organizations, public defense, and government agencies.

In 2009, more than one third of Lewis & Clark Law School graduates chose to practice public interest law, making it one of the top-ranked public interest law programs in the country.

This year, the student-led Public Interest Law Project celebrated 20 years of providing financial support to fellow law students who volunteer with nonprofits and government agencies; last year, the law school expanded its Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which helps graduates working lower-paying public interest law jobs with their student load debt. 

Because of its service to individuals, the public, and causes not typically served by the for-profit sector, Penn believes public interest law helps ensure balance and fairness in the legal system.

“The value of public interest law and public service law, beyond the moral value of treating everyone with respect and dignity, serves to make our society work by seeing that the field remains even, be it in economic terms or in terms of the government and the people,” Penn said.

Before Penn came to work at the Lewis & Clark Law School three years ago, he was in private practice, representing consumers in bankruptcy and tax debt settlement cases. He also volunteered extensively, working on behalf of the Community Alliance of Tenants, coaching the mock trial team at Grant High School in Portland, and serving on the Multnomah Bar Association’s Young Lawyer Section’s Pro Bono Committee, among many other roles. 

Over those years, Penn said he had always wanted to put his commitment to public interest law to work more fully. That commitment brought him to the law school in 1999 as a student and then again in 2007, when the public interest law coordinator position opened.

“The greatest thing about my work now is that I help people help other people,” Penn said. “By some kind of transitive logic, many more people than I ever meet, or who even know I exist, are helped by my actions.”

Sitting on the national advisory committee will not only offer Penn the opportunity to contribute to the field of public interest law, his service will also better help Lewis & Clark Law School students and alumni.

“Because of our high number of graduates headed to public service careers, our students and alumni benefit proportionally much more than other schools,” Penn said. “Serving on the committee will allow me to advance the concerns of our students heading to public interest careers to Equal Justice Work. It will also allow me to work directly with others in the forefront of public service legal education to keep Lewis & Clark engaged in developing public interest programs.”

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