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December 23, 2009 10:30 AM

Deferred Associate Diaries

Posted by Ed Shanahan

By Andrew Ardinger

Ardingerphoto I started my current job on October 1 in Oakland, California. For the next year I will work at the Public Interest Law Project (PILP), a small but growing nonprofit that serves as a state support center for California's legal services programs. PILP engages in impact litigation and legislative advocacy statewide on behalf of people receiving public benefits, and people who live in affordable housing.

In the first two-plus months here at PILP, I have assisted the six attorneys in researching, drafting, and editing briefs, orders, and declarations, as well as a petition for review filed at the California Supreme Court. I have attended training programs for young public interest lawyers in San Jose, Fresno, and at a convention/meeting center in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Although I have now settled into working at PILP, it wasn't until last spring, around six weeks before I graduated from Stanford Law School, that I first became acquainted with the organization. It was at that point that Orrick, where I was slated to start in the fall, offered to pay some incoming associates a stipend to work at a public interest program for a year before joining the firm in January 2011. After a whirlwind process coordinated by Rene Kathawala, the firm's pro bono counsel, where I met with several groups that do great work, I opted to spend the year at PILP.

I first began to seriously consider becoming a lawyer as a high school debater in Kansas. I liked the research, writing, strategic thinking, and oral advocacy involved in policy debate. My coach, an accomplished attorney in her previous career, regularly affirmed that these skills were among the most important tools in the legal practitioner's kit.

When I was an undergrad at Stanford, I majored in history, and each class, in some way or another, explored how a society responded to its understanding of where it was and gave voice to its vision of where it could head.

Approaching law school, then, dewy-eyed and entirely obvious as all this may sound, I wanted to develop a lawyer's skills and start to consider how laws are made, how they evolve, and the ways in which the physical, social, and political contexts in which they are adopted affect their application.

Through classes and participation in Stanford's International Human Rights Clinic, as well as summer internships at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid's Edinburg office and Orrick's San Francisco office, I was able to work on the skills my high school debate coach had long ago highlighted.

Through working in, and observing, the legal and political systems of Namibia, a recently independent African nation committed to thoughtful, progressive development; those in the Rio Grande Valley, a vibrant and remarkable place unto itself; and those in the Bay Area, I started to develop a better sense of the possibilities within the law, and the ways in which lessons learned serving one set of clients--whether corporate, direct services, or governmental/NGO--can carry over to improve representation of another set.

At the base of it, though, I'm just beginning my legal career, and after seven years of school out here, I've decided I'd like to remain in the Bay Area for the foreseeable future. I wanted to work at a place where I can become the lawyer I'd like to be, and where I can play a part in the civic and legal life of the Bay Area. 

Andrew Ardinger is a deferred first-year associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. This is the first in a series of blog posts about his work for the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland and his experiences as a young lawyer.

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