Our mission is to educate and support women and minorities in accessing and participating in the justice system. The Oregon Women Lawyers Foundation, the 501(c)(3) sister organization to Oregon Women Lawyers, is proud to focus on educating and supporting women and minorities in order to further their access to and participation in the justice system. We fund the Armonica Law Student Book Grant, the Vernellia R. Randall Bar Exam Grant, the Justice Betty Roberts Leadership Conference Grant, and the Janis Hardman Medical Support Grant.
Most new law graduates begin practice with enormous school loans accumulated through years of study. A March 2014 report by the New America Education Policy Program (PDF download), points out that 86% of law graduates who received their law degrees in 2012 had student loans, with a typical borrower owing more than $140,000.
The situation is even more difficult for those who are single parents or who lack any kind of family support. Even after graduation, there are more barriers to becoming a lawyer. The cost to take the Oregon Bar exam is currently $625. For lawyers already admitted elsewhere, the fee is $1,050. Prep courses for the exam cost thousands of dollars. To make matters worse, many graduates are not finding law-related jobs, and despite what we see on television, only a handful of lawyers earn large salaries. New lawyers with enormous student loans pose a barrier to access to justice, as they cannot volunteer their services to gain needed experience, work in the lowest-paying legal positions or move to underserved geographic regions.
Although the Foundation is not currently able to assist law students with tuition, through the Armonica Law Student Grant and the Vernellia R. Randall Bar Exam Grant some financial help and mentoring is available to law students for textbooks and single parents studying for the Oregon bar exam.
The need for financial assistance doesn’t always end when lawyers become established in their practice. Unexpected medical problems can arise, making it difficult for solo or small-firm practitioners to meet expenses. The Janis Hardman Medical Support Grant is available to assist in a modest way with expenses relating to a short-term disabling medical condition.
On a happier note, the Justice Betty Roberts Leadership Conference Grant helps emerging leaders in bar associations and nonprofit organizations develop the skills they need by funding opportunities to participate in leadership conferences.
In addition to funding the grants described, the Foundation supports the educational work of Oregon Women Lawyers and other Oregon bar associations.
Only with the full and effective participation of all lawyers will we be able to meet the legal needs of Oregonians. The Foundation is one partner in the effort to meet those needs.