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Even the Scale

New program pairs young attorneys with mentors while they help people in need of legal aid
by: Jaime Valdez Criminal defense attorney Ben Eder, left, and his twin brother, David Eder, Beaverton’s 
assistant city attorney, have been working together since November to create and attract support for a new Practical Skills Through Public Service program.

It's not every day that the prosecution and defense team up to build a case.

However, when that case involves helping lawyers new to the profession gain needed courtroom experience, it just makes sense for attorneys David Eder and Ben Eder, twin brothers who practice on opposite sides of the legal spectrum.

The Garden Home natives have spent the last six months working with two other leaders for the Oregon New Lawyers Division to launch a new program, 'Practical Skills Through Public Service.' This community service program is designed to give inexperienced and unemployed new attorneys the opportunity to receive training and perform pro-bono legal work through participating programs.

'We both noticed a sad trend with some of our law school classmates and those who recently graduated in the last five years - there is a gap in the legal profession,' said David Eder, a Tigard resident who serves as Beaverton's assistant city attorney, prosecuting criminal cases. 'Law schools teach students how to read cases, analyze the law and think critically, but lawyers are on their own to learn the practice of law after he or she passes the bar exam.

'Traditionally, law firms or government agencies would hire associates and mentor and aid their legal development as a modern-day apprentice program. Now that law firms are downsizing with few opportunities for new hires, an unprecedented number of younger attorneys are practicing law with little or no guidance, oftentimes forced to open solo practices.'

That trend is a troubling one to the Eder brothers and others in the legal profession, including Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz and the Oregon State Bar. The bar is developing a mandatory program to assign a mentor to anyone who just passed the bar in February or who will in the future.

While the state program is for brand new attorneys, the Practical Skills Through Public Service program will complement it by sweeping up other newer lawyers who do not qualify, said Judge Ellen Rosenblum of the Oregon Court of Appeals.

'The PS Through PS program will help fill the need for young lawyers to obtain some training in specific skills and real experience trying cases that they would be unlikely to get any other way,' Rosenblum said. 'My hopes are that this will help unemployed and underemployed lawyers 'kick-start' their professional development so that, as the economy picks up (hopefully) these young professionals will not be left behind, due to the profession's failure to provide mentoring and meaningful practice opportunities in these critical years.'

That is what the Eders hope as well.

'Right now, graduates are either unemployed or underemployed and opening their own practices without training,' said Ben Eder, a defense attorney with Thuemmel and Uhle, specializing in vehicle-related criminal cases in Multnomah County.

He knows firsthand how beneficial it is to have professional mentors and access to opportunities that could open a door to a job with a prestigious firm.

'When I was in law school, I asked who the best lawyers were that I could go and watch in court,' Ben Eder recalled. 'I was told Bob Thuemmel and Bill Uhle.'

In his third year of law school, Uhle invited Ben Eder to shadow him through the process of trying a case.

'He called me into his office to talk about how he planned to try the case, not just see what would happen in the courtroom,' Ben Eder said. 'He wanted me to understand what his theory of the case was, know where he would go and what he would try to do in the courtroom as opposed to just watching.

'If something changed in the case and he had to make a shift, we met in his office. I felt like I learned a lot about how to practice criminal law.'

Without a professional mentor, it's also harder to ask questions, added David Eder.

For example, family law documents are different than motions filed in a criminal case, and a new attorney may not be familiar with practicing law in one of those specific fields.

The beauty of the ONLD program is that it will accomplish two goals, David Eder said.

'It provides legal representation to populations in need and provides irreplaceable work experience for new attorneys eager to serve,' he said.

The program connects volunteer attorneys to existing opportunities with legal aid programs that provide basic civil and family law representation, and with new volunteer opportunities designed for this program with criminal representation organizations. Free training will also be offered for volunteer attorneys by either the ONLD or the partnering agencies themselves that are relevant to specific areas of law.

'We want to make sure they get meaningful work and mentorship at the same time there is a significant group of underserved members of the community who will benefit from their services,' David Eder said.

'Hopefully, there will be future job opportunities for the volunteer lawyers within the organization they serve with in this program,' added Ben Eder. 'They are guaranteed to get a taste of what the practice of law looks like in a specific area.'

Partnering agencies, judges, law firms, district attorneys and public defenders alike support the creation of this program.

'It's a really unique stab at solving a newer problem in our profession,' said Steve Puicci, president of the Oregon State Bar. 'I think it's amazing that the Oregon New Lawyers Division is taking it on. It sounds like it will support our mission to provide access to justice and protect the public.'

Rosenblum agreed.

'I commend (them) for their inspired efforts getting this program off the ground,' she said.

Are you a young attorney?

The deadline to file an application for the Oregon New Lawyers Division's new program, 'Practical Skills Through Public Service,' is Thursday, May 19.

Lawyers 35 and younger or in their first six years of practice in Oregon are encouraged to apply for placement with the city attorney's offices for Beaverton and Salem, Juvenile Rights Project, Legal Aid Services of Oregon, Metropolitan Public Defender, Multnomah Defense Inc., and St. Andrew's Legal Clinic.

Because of training and potential assignments, volunteers must be selected for a position with a program and must be able to commit to several hours a week for several weeks or more, depending on the program. See program details for more information at www.osbar.org/programs/mentoring/index.html .