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Law graduate selected for highly competitive program with U.S. Department of Justice

May 25, 2011

  • Ellie Dawson

Law Campus

Ellie Dawson is one of more than 220 students who will participate in the commencement ceremony at Lewis & Clark Law School on May 28, 2011. Dawson will receive a certificate in environmental and natural resources law before beginning her dream job with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The commencement ceremony will feature an address by Stephen L. Carter, a legal scholar who has written extensively about religion, politics, and ethics. Learn more about commencement.

In the following interview, Dawson discusses how her experiences at Lewis & Clark prepared her for her chosen career.

Where are you originally from, and why did you choose to attend Lewis & Clark?

Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, I came to Lewis & Clark because it presented the best combination of an excellent environmental law program and a great overall law school. I came to law school with the intent of becoming an environmental lawyer, but I also wanted to keep my options open in case I changed my mind. Lewis & Clark is an exceptional law school all around, one of its greatest assets being the professors. What struck me when I came to visit was how much more interested in actually teaching the professors seemed here than at some other schools I visited, and I wasn’t disappointed when I enrolled. Additionally, at the visit day the faculty and staff were extremely welcoming, making me feel like they wanted me to attend and that I had something to contribute to the school, as well as getting a great learning experience out of it.

What do you think defines the Lewis & Clark law student experience? The accessible faculty, rigorous academic offerings, beautiful surroundings?

All of the above! When I looked at the materials online and in the mail, I thought, “How great would it be to get to study in a park?” L&C really seemed to walk the talk about sustainability and connecting students to the natural world, all the while preparing them to protect it.

Another key feature of L&C that makes it unique is the supportive, encouraging atmosphere. Law school is extremely stressful no matter where you go, but because everyone here does everything they can to facilitate learning and meaningful practical experiences, the stress does not have to hinder students’ success. I think that the competition between students, another major stressor, is also less prominent here than at other schools—we each want to succeed, of course, but not to the detriment of others, because I think we all understand that the law profession as a whole will be better if we build each other up. 

What has been your experience with the Public Interest Law Project (PILP), and why do you think it’s important for current students to be involved in supporting opportunities for work in the public sector?

The Public Interest Law Project, and the work it supports, is one of the defining features of this law school. We have a higher percentage of students going into non-profit and government work than many other schools, which reflects the spirit of service many students have when they come to school and the emphasis the school places on using the law to help the underserved. Especially in these current economic times, with services being cut, and people losing their homes, having the assistance of someone versed in the law is becoming more important than ever, yet harder to secure.

Of course, such work cannot usually pay as much as private-sector, for-profit law, and that is where PILP summer stipends and the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) come in. As one of three Auction Directors, I helped organize an auction that raised more than $80,000, which funded students’ summer legal internships at non-profit entities and contributed to the LRAP fund. Preparing for such a large auction was an intense experience, given that we were all carrying full course loads at the same time, but the support staff at school was amazingly helpful, and the involvement of the faculty, students, and alumni was spectacular.   

My role in PILP this year was to try and get the word out to students about the existence of LRAP, and then to run an opinion poll to gauge student support for the assessment that is added on to the student fees every semester (currently $25 a semester) to help fund the program. I am happy to report that those voting expressed overwhelming support for continuing the assessment, and the majority even voted to increase it! That the students would be willing to contribute more than they already do to ensure that their fellow students will not feel discouraged from pursuing public interest careers is a testament to the strong sense of community that the school creates.

Have you taken part in other activities/groups at the law school that have helped to prepare you for work in your chosen field?

I have been fairly active during my time at L&C, as I wanted to make the most out of my time here. I was a member of Environmental Law during my second and third years, my third year serving as Notes and Comments Editor. My second year, I was also a law clerk for the International Environmental Law Project, a clinic that provides assistance to NGOs and even small countries, most recently focusing on climate change, trade in endangered species, and biodiversity issues. My third year, I also participated in the Environmental and Animal Legal Advocacy moot court course, which was partially an in-school competition to decide who to send to the national competition. I was selected to be on the school’s National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition team, and we made it to the final round, marking the 13th time in the past 20 years that the school has made the finals. All of these experiences helped improve my skills in different ways, and I am grateful that the school provides so many opportunities for expanding one’s practical capabilities.

What do you think sets apart a Lewis & Clark legal education? What is the value of degree from Lewis & Clark?

Besides reiterating what I mentioned above about the professors’ interest in teaching and the encouraging atmosphere they foster, I think a Lewis & Clark degree signifies that a student is dedicated to learning the law and to putting that knowledge to practical use. The writing and professional skills requirements, in particular, reinforce what we learn in the classroom and prepare us to practice in a way that no reading from a casebook ever could.

What’s next for you after graduation?

My husband and I are heading to Washington, D.C., where I was lucky enough to be hired by the U.S. Department of Justice in their Honors Attorney Program. I will be working for the Environment and Natural Resources Division—essentially, I landed my dream job! There is no way I would have been able to secure this position without all of the experiences L&C provided and the excellent instruction of its professors.


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