I decided to study law at the University of Oregon because of the school’s strong public interest environmental law program and because the Eugene community is especially active addressing environmental concerns. I had no idea that I might find in such a relatively small city the U.S. office of a dynamic international network of more than 300 public interest environmental advocates from 70 countries. With plans to study international and environmental law, as well as human rights, I could not have been more pleasantly surprised to learn about ELAW and I sought out opportunities to work with the organization. In the past two years, I have been involved with ELAW as a volunteer, as an extern during the school year, and currently as a summer legal intern. Through these experiences my appreciation of the ELAW network continues to grow.
Many people describe ELAW as a family. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a particularly large, dispersed, and multicultural family, and it functions more democratically than most families I’ve known; but, the loyalty, reciprocity, and humanity which one perceives among ELAW partners, staff, and supporters makes the characterization inescapable. ELAW is a family whose members are working tirelessly for a more sustainable and more just society, and while each person uses her or his particular skills to tackle environmental and social concerns closest to her or his home or heart, the rest of the ELAW family is always ready to help.
As an extern this spring, I had the great opportunity to participate in the ELAW Annual Meeting. The five-day event felt like a big family reunion. I didn’t know many of the participants at the Annual Meeting, and I didn’t know anything about their personal histories and relationships to one another, but I could tell that they shared important experiences, values, and aspirations. Whether participants were engaged in serious debate or raucous play, there was a constant collective enthusiasm to be among like-minded and hard-working advocates for the public interest.
Working in the ELAW office as a legal intern this summer has only deepened my appreciation of the ELAW network. Every day, I get to collaborate with and learn from brilliant advocates as they work together to tackle new (and some not-so-new) environmental challenges around the world. There is never a dull moment. Most of the research questions I’ve been assigned are fascinating but challenging, and some are occasionally frustrating. Of course, the moral satisfaction of contributing to such important efforts makes up for even the most frustrating of assignments. And, if the moral satisfaction weren’t enough, the ELAW staff always go out of their way to express gratitude for the contributions of volunteers, interns, and other supporters. Similarly, the ELAW staff make a concerted effort to ensure that volunteers and interns enjoy and benefit from their experience with ELAW. This summer, interns and volunteers have been invited to join visiting ELAW partners for discussions, lunches, and other events, including a couple of field trips in and around the Eugene area. And, despite their demanding workload, the Staff Attorneys often offer legal interns a choice between two or more projects so that we may work on issues and areas of law of personal interest. Like most strong families, ELAW gives ample support to its newest and youngest members. And perhaps it’s not surprising that professionals dedicated to the protection and promotion of human dignity would treat their interns with so much respect, but it sure makes an unpaid summer internship enjoyable and I think it reflects well on the character of the ELAW family.
ELAW Legal Intern