Lee Ann Donaldson, a member of the Class of 2009, didn’t have a specific career goal in mind when she applied to law school. She was drawn to law by a keen interest in politics and a desire to help others. “I really enjoy problem solving and helping people,” she said, “so I know law school was the right choice for me.”
A native of Salem, Ore., Donaldson moved to New York after high school and immersed herself in American studies at Barnard College. During her junior year, she participated in a seven-month study abroad program at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Donaldson enjoyed the university’s multidisciplinary approach to coursework so much that she enrolled in the school’s master’s program in nationalism studies.
Following graduate school, Donaldson returned to her parents’ home in Oregon, where she dove headfirst into local politics. “I wanted to make a difference in the 2004 election,” said Donaldson, who volunteered with the Oregon Bus Project’s voter mobilization campaign in Portland to help increase voter registration. “I made a real effort to be nonpartisan during the campaign. It was more important for me to motivate people to vote than to push a particular candidate. I believe in the populist notion that if enough people vote, the right person will be elected.”
After the election, Donaldson became legislative assistant and project coordinator for Sen. Rick Metsger of Welches, Ore. “I spent a lot of time helping constituents jump through hoops to get benefits,” she said. “I referred a lot of people to the state bar for assistance. It broke my heart that I couldn’t help them. That’s when I first realized I really wanted to be a lawyer.”
In February 2006, Donaldson was hired as campaign manager for Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a first-time candidate from Washington County. The scope of the job was immense. Donaldson developed campaign, media and voter-contact plans and even helped with fundraising. “I worked multiple 12-hour days, running mostly on adrenaline,” she said. “I stepped down from the position a few weeks before starting law school; Bonamici won the election with 61 percent of the vote.”
Donaldson enrolled in law school at Willamette just a few months after her cousin, Amy (Donaldson) Hill JD’06, graduated from the college. Her father, Robert W. Donaldson JD’74, managing partner at Black Helterline LLP in Portland, also earned his law degree from WUCL. “The fact that I have a family connection to the school made me apprehensive about enrolling in the program,” Donaldson said. “I want to succeed
on my own merits. I want to succeed because I’m me.”
Although she has no plans to practice alongside her father after graduation, Donaldson considers him a tremendous role model. “His goal is to help people succeed and create their American dream,” she said of his immigration and business law practice. “He helps people set up family businesses and live in a free society. If I could become the kind of lawyer my dad is, it would be such an accomplishment.”
As a first-year student, Donaldson made a name for herself in her own right. In addition to serving as an American Bar Association student representative, she was elected 1L class president of the Student Bar Association. She also held a summer clerkship with the Oregon Department of Justice, where she worked in the business activities division of the general counsel’s office.
With two years of law school ahead of her, Donaldson still has time to decide on a specific career path. “I see law school as a tool that will allow me to do anything I set my mind to,” she said. “In the future, I can see myself working to promote policy or being a lobbyist. I want the issues that brought me to law school to be the issues that keep me interested in politics, despite what I choose for a career.”