Pro Bono Hero
“I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, so when I get the opportunity to help someone else, I take it,” said Todd J. Huegli, a member of the Class of 2008. “It is rewarding for me to do volunteer work, but it is also a bit selfish. There’s no better feeling than the one I get from helping people and changing their lives in a positive way.”
Winner of the Oregon State Bar’s 2006 Student Pro Bono Challenge, Huegli amassed more than 500 volunteer hours between May and December 2006 to take top honors. During that time, he worked as a “freelance legal assistant” to attorneys at Metropolitan Public Defenders (MPD) Inc., a private nonprofit law firm in Portland, Ore., that provides criminal defense for indigent clients. Huegli helped the firm’s attorneys prepare for jury trials and hearings by researching cases and filing motions and summary judgments.
“Pro bono work is something that I am extremely passionate about,” Huegli said. “I hope all attorneys will devote a portion of their time to give back to the community.”
A Portland native, Huegli has been committed to community service since high school, when he volunteered at a local soup kitchen. Since that time, his volunteer activities have ranged from rebuilding homes and delivering food to the elderly to helping with voter registration campaigns. As a computer science major at the University of Oregon, he worked as a tutor in the school’s computer lab and volunteered to help disabled students with their computer science courses.
Huegli graduated from college in 2001 with the goal of landing a job with a high-tech company in the Pacific Northwest after spending the summer sailing around New Zealand with his father. After a few weeks in New Zealand, though, Huegli abandoned his plan. He spent the next two years working as a software engineer for SnapHire in Auckland. “I was good at my job, but I knew I would never be one of the best,” he said. “In the computer industry, you cannot advance much unless you spend all your free time studying new technology. And that’s not how I wanted to spend my time. I need to connect with people.
“I had always wanted to go to law school, so I decided to give up computers and focus on my true passion — law,” said Huegli, who moved back to Portland in July 2003 and immediately began applying to law programs. “I didn’t tell my father I had applied to law school until I had been accepted to Willamette,” said Huegli, whose father, James D. Huegli, graduated from WUCL in 1972. “At first he didn’t believe me. Then he was really excited.”
In 2004, Huegli enrolled in Willamette’s Joint Degree Program, through which he will earn a J.D. and an M.B.A. “My ultimate career goal is to specialize in products liability and civil plaintiff’s work, helping the underdog,” he said. “I really see plaintiff’s work as social justice. When people are injured from defects in products and don’t have the resources to advocate for themselves, they need someone who can take on those big companies.”
Huegli’s interest in criminal law and helping others led him back to MPD for a second summer internship in 2007. “This time, as a certified law student, I was able to handle my own cases,” he said. “I managed cases from client assignment through the entire life of the case, including trying misdemeanor cases before a judge and jury.
“I love being in the courtroom,” he said. “It’s just me and the other attorney arguing to a jury, trying to convince them that we’re right. If I can get the jury to trust me and believe in my position, well, that’s the best. I really love that human connection.”