Working as a receptionist at a veterinary hospital in Portland, Nani Apo JD’13 heard all kinds of complaints. There was the woman who refused to pay for her cat’s surgery because it did not have the hoped-for result and the man who threatened to sue after his dog had an allergic reaction to vaccinations, not to mention the numerous pet owners who simply disagreed with the cost of the veterinary care. As the person at the front desk, Apo learned to listen and communicate, becoming adept at solving customers’ issues at the vet.
Apo heard about the Certificate Program in Dispute Resolution at Willamette University College of Law, and her curiosity piqued. She became interested in learning about negotiation and mediation as methods of settling other disputes, so she began seeking her JD there in 2010. Despite initial jitters, she loved her time at Willamette.
“At first, I was nervous that it would be a difficult transition, because I hadn’t been to school for eight years,” Apo said. “As expected, law school was challenging and stressful, but I gained a lot of satisfaction from working toward a goal and proving to myself that I could succeed.”
While a student, Apo stayed busy with involvement in the Multicultural Law Students Association, engagement in negotiation and appellate competitions and editing the Willamette Environmental Law Journal and a dispute resolution program newsletter. She also completed externships at the Legal Aid Farmworkers’ Program and the Oregon Court of Appeals.
She said the most helpful aspect of her time at Willamette was the availability of experiential learning opportunities within the law school and certificate program.
“Not only are there various opportunities nearby — for example, at the courts, government agencies, and private firms” she said, “but the network of alumni working in the area was helpful in connecting to those opportunities.”
As part of the certificate program, Apo participated in the school’s negotiation competition, something she said she would not have been a part of otherwise. She and Allie Wils ’08, JD’13 and their respective partners qualified for the ABA regionals and competed in Calgary, Alberta. Wils and Apo agreed that the individualized negotiation skills training and time spent working with teammates was invaluable.
“The certificate program creates a community,” Wils said. “By the time we reached higher-level negotiation classes, we were able to do a lot of exercises where we broke out into smaller groups. It was about practicing our skills rather than discussing or learning about them.”
To fulfill another requirement for the certificate, Apo worked a minimum number of practical experience hours in an alternative dispute resolution setting. She chose to serve as a volunteer mediator through the Marion County Circuit Court’s small claims mediation program. Most mediations, she said, involved creditors and debtors, but one instance was different.
“One particularly memorable mediation involved two best friends who had been fighting for two years over a borrowed piece of jewelry that was then somehow lost,” Apo said. “At the end of the mediation, both participants were hugging and crying and catching each other up on how their respective families were doing. It was quite rewarding.”
Following her graduation from Willamette, Apo clerked for Judge Douglas L. Tookey on the Oregon Court of Appeals for nearly two years. Since fall 2015, she has been an honors attorney for the Oregon Department of Justice, first in the Appellate Division and now for the Criminal Justice Division.
Apo said her certificate in dispute resolution is relevant in her current position because it has helped her consider legal issues from different perspectives and anticipate contrary arguments.
“For example, it is useful when making written or oral legal arguments,” she said, “and also for considering what outcome might constitute a just result under different circumstances.”
Wils, who currently works as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., said the certificate is useful in her position, too, since the skills learned are transferable.
“Lobbying is about relationship-building and advocacy, the same skills you use in alternative dispute resolution,” Wils said. “The critical component is being able to create meaningful relationships.”
For Apo, the program was an interesting and useful experience. At the least, she said her certificate in dispute resolution has been a talking point in job interviews multiple times. At the most, though, she said the skills she gained from the program are useful in many aspects of the law and everyday life.
“I think that all law students can benefit from the development of communication and dispute resolution skills,” she said, “regardless of what type of legal practice they end up pursuing.”
About Willamette University College of Law
Opened in 1883, Willamette University College of Law is the first law school in the Pacific Northwest. The college has a long tradition at the forefront of legal education and is committed to the advancement of knowledge through excellent teaching, scholarship and mentorship. Leading faculty, thriving externship and clinical law programs, ample practical skills courses and a proactive career placement office prepare Willamette law students for today's legal job market. According to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association, Willamette ranks first in the Pacific Northwest for job placement for full-time, long-term, JD-preferred/JD-required jobs for the class of 2014 and first in Oregon for the classes of 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Located across the street from the state capitol complex and the Oregon Supreme Court, the college specializes in law and government, law and business, and dispute resolution.