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Award-winning University of Oregon law students give back to the community while furthering their own legal educations

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Individually, by directly impacting the lives of local people, they have achieved even more.

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The Juvenile Rights Project in Portland; Peer Court in Eugene and Springfield; Street Law, based at the law school; and the Lane County Law and Advocacy Center are just a few groups that have benefited from law students' service.

Molly Allen is in her second year at Oregon Law, and she has already clocked 400 hours of pro bono work. She works with both the Juvenile Rights Project and Peer Court. Before coming to law school, Allen interned as a probation officer for juvenile defendants. The experience "really opened my eyes to the difficulties so many kids face," she says. It also showed her "how resilient kids are."

Allen came to law school knowing she wanted to work with juveniles, and a professor at the school connected her with the Juvenile Rights Project. The group works with kids charged with crimes and also represents abused kids in dependency hearings, which determine child placement.

Allen would do home visits on behalf of attorneys and talk to the kids. She would make sure there was no abuse taking place and convey information from the kids to the attorneys, Allen says. She also advocated for kids in meetings with the Department of Human Services.

In addition to all that, Allen spent last summer writing a book.

Oregon requires a "transition plan" for foster kids turning 18 years old as they transition out of foster care. Allen researched and wrote a guidebook on the best types of transition plans and how best to follow the legislation mandating the plans, for judges, lawyers, and caseworkers who deal with abuse and neglect proceedings. For example, the book describes how to make sure that the kids have housing and health insurance and gives advice on how best to advocate for the child's best interests.

Allen spends a few hours a month during the school year working as a pro bono judge and intake counselor in the Eugene and Springfield city Peer Court programs. In Peer Court, juveniles charged with crimes come before a jury of their fellow teens, which rules on guilt and determines sentencing. Offenses include underage possession of tobacco, low-level theft, or harassment. Sentences often include community service, says Allen, and a letter of apology.

The pro bono work has been "the best part of my legal education," says Allen, who hopes to work representing juveniles in her career after law school.

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Jeremy Dickman does his pro bono work helping to head up the Street Law program at Oregon Law. This year, Dickman won the annual school award for making the most impact through his pro bono work.

Street Law is comprised of law students who go to area high school classrooms and teach students about their constitutional rights, including "the nuts and bolts of the Fourth Amendment," Dickman says, advising students on what to do if stopped by the police. "It's where the rubber meets the road as far as the law is concerned."

Dickman, a third-year, saw Street Law as a way to serve those in the community who are not as privileged as many law students. "I really like criminal law and working with kids," he says. Street Law was a way to do community service and also to have fun, he says.

David Eisenberg found his pro bono niche through a recommendation from Oregon Law's Pro Bono Program Director, Jane Steckbeck. When Eisenberg was looking for something to do for the summer after his first year, she steered him towards the Lane County Law and Advocacy Center, saying it would help him learn interview skills and problem-solving. "And of course, she was right," says Eisenberg, now in his third year.

Eisenberg does intake interviews with the center's low-income clients. He talks with the client and then discusses the legal issues with one of the supervising attorneys to determine whether the center can help the person or he needs to refer the person on to another lawyer.

Most of the center's clients have questions on denials for benefits such as Social Security disability, food stamps, or government housing, says Eisenberg. Helping people with denial appeals is the center's "number-one priority," he says. The center also helps clients with family law issues, such as divorce, child custody, and domestic violence restraining orders.

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Eisenberg enjoys this kind of legal work and is "considering doing this as a career" or at least keeping up a pro bono commitment while working at a law firm, he says. He has "a sense that you are supposed to, and can, help people in this profession," Eisenberg says. "It's a very satisfying thing."

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