Legal Aid Services of Oregon is a statewide nonprofit organization providing high-quality legal representation and advocacy to vulnerable and low-income communities throughout Oregon. Partner James Hein, current Chair of Tonkon Torp’s Pro Bono Committee, was instrumental in launching the firm’s partnership with Legal Aid Roseburg. The arrangement ensures that rural Oregon residents have access to skilled attorneys for a broad range of civic and criminal issues. When expungement cases are referred to Tonkon Torp, attorneys know they are being giving a chance to literally change the trajectory of someone’s life. Immediate Past Managing Partner Darcy Norville (who started her career as a Legal Aid attorney) completed a case for a woman seeking to expunge three criminal convictions so that she could complete her certification by the state and gain formal employment as a caregiver for her mother.
“With Legal Aid, you’re working with people who are just trying to fulfill basic needs like getting a job and providing for their family, but who have no other options,” said Darcy. “The effort that goes into this work gives me a very different level of satisfaction. The work I do for my business clients is gratifying, but it isn’t likely to change their lives at a foundational level the way that it does for Legal Aid clients. The impact on their lives is tremendous, and that is such a reward.”
When associate Mick Harris took on his first expungement case for a client referred from Legal Aid Roseburg, he knew he would find Darcy’s door open and that he would be welcome to tap into the knowledge she gained from completing her case. “The firm clearly values and prioritizes giving back to the community,” he shared. “There is frequent dialog between partners and associates about pro bono opportunities, and we aren’t dissuaded from taking on complex, challenging pro bono cases—cases that can make a real impact in the community.” Mick successfully helped his client expunge a cannabis-related felony and gained new appreciation for the change he can effect. “It was the first time in my burgeoning career that I directly impacted someone’s life by helping them face an unjust system and that is so very meaningful.” In addition to Legal Aid, Mick has begun working on felony conviction expungements through the Community Legal & Educational Access & Referral (CLEAR) Clinic housed at Portland Community College Cascade. Although attorneys have no control over the speed of the courts, and COVID-19 has added additional barriers, the work continues through motions and supporting paperwork that can be completed remotely.