Defending the defenseless

New loan repayment fund makes it easier for Law graduate to start a career helping kids

Photo by Rick RappaportPhoto by Rick Rappaport

The law school’s new Loan Repayment Assistance Program is helping Laura Sadowski, J.D. ’05, pursue a career helping children.

 

"When I come home, I tell my fiancé a lot of sad stories,” says Laura Sadowski, J.D. ’05. Like the three-year-old who moved into a foster home, then started keeping food in his room because
he just couldn’t believe that he would get regular meals. Or the children on the sidewalk in front of their home, trying to open cans of soup by pounding them on the curb. When you’re a lawyer helping kids, heartbreak is part of the territory.

“For some of these kids it is very very scary every day of their lives and they know nothing different,” says Sadowski, who works as a law clerk in Lane County Juvenile Court. “As hard as it is to put that away at the end of the day, I sleep better at night knowing I’m at least part of the solution.”

Being part of the solution is now a little easier for UO law graduates, thanks to a program that helps public interest lawyers pay back their loans.

So far, donors have contributed more than $300,000 to endow the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) for graduates who work in public interest jobs. In November, the first two recipients of $4,000 LRAP awards were announced: Coos Bay public defender Stacey Kay Lowe, J.D. ’03, and Sadowski, who passed the bar in July and is gaining practical experience that will prepare her for a career in family and juvenile law.

When Sadowski got the news about the LRAP award, “It was like a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. Regardless of how much I was going to make this year, I would be able to start making a small dent in a very large pile of debt,” she says. That pile is $60,000—a typical amount for law school graduates and an even greater burden for those who pursue public interest law.

“Not all of us are going to go work in a big firm,” adds Sadowski. “And the world needs good lawyers who can go and work in the public interest.” Often, finances keep graduates out of public interest law. “I think a lot of people have every good intention to go into public interest work. They went into law school thinking ‘This is what I want to do, this is the kind of lawyer I want to be.’ They come out and they realize the reality of it. If they are going to be that lawyer they want to be, it’s going to be hard to pay all their bills.”

A group of UO law students started LRAP in 2002 as part of a class project. They were looking for a way to help new public interest lawyers and approached the school’s board, which made a startup gift. Other donations followed. But donor Jackie Romm, J.D. ’81, gave LRAP its roots. In 2004, Romm died from complications related to breast cancer at the age of fifty-six. Before her death, Romm created a $200,000 endowment for the program. One of Eugene’s preeminent domestic relations lawyers, Romm also focused on civil rights work. She filed the initial restraining order that forced the PGA to allow Casey Martin to use a golf cart.

“She was very tough as a lawyer,” says Suzanne Chanti, who was one of Romm’s law partners. “People who didn’t know her very well probably didn’t realize how kind she was because she had this tough armor as an advocate. You just didn’t mess with her.

“She believed in the principle that our justice system is based on the notion that we are all equal before the law. But she knew there was a long walk between that promise and its fulfillment. When she was really sick, she started looking around for something she wanted to contribute to. She wanted to do some good with the money she had.”

For Sadowski, her work has just begun. “Kids are the most helpless of all the members of our society,” she says. “And when you don’t have an adult who loves you to guide you through life, you’re really on your own. And that’s when kids need the support of lawyers and social services, extended family, all of those things. It really doesn’t just come from one person. I like the idea of being part of that support net for children.”

—Ed Dorsch