Putting her heart and soul into law

by Jennifer Johnson,

The second graduate of Willamette College of Law’s 3+3 program hopes to use the law to improve people’s lives.

Usually, professors inspire students. But this year, former Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice and Willamette law faculty member Paul De Muniz found himself particularly impressed by one of his student’s dedication and commitment to social justice.

De Muniz JD’75 worked with Lauren Sharkey ’15, JD’17 through the Street Law program, which introduces high school students to the legal field and its career prospects.

Sharkey approached De Muniz, Willamette College of Law’s distinguished jurist-in-residence, to be a faculty advisor. He says her remarkable efforts developed Street Law into a program far beyond any expectations.

“I was inspired by my relationship with her and the students, who are now seeing a path forward,” he says. “It was her priority to affect the lives of those young people.”

As this year’s executive director, Sharkey initiated Street Law’s first three-day mock trial, presided over by Judge Darleen Ortega of the Oregon Court of Appeals. She also introduced a mentorship program that pairs law students with youth from Willamette Academy, the university’s initiative providing academic support to young members of communities that are historically underrepresented at colleges.

Academic fast-track

Universities in California, New York and Washington offered Sharkey a spot in their undergraduate programs, but she chose Willamette’s accelerated 3+3 law program, which allowed her to finish a bachelor’s degree and law degree in six years instead of seven. Sharkey is only the second graduate of the program.

From an early age, Sharkey was certain she wanted a law career. Growing up in Oak Harbor, Washington, she immersed herself in legal thrillers by John Grisham and Lisa Scottoline. She watched television shows like “Law & Order” that offered insights into the challenges and impact of a law career. While these books and shows sparked her interest in the field, she also appreciated the complexities of law, which she says doesn’t always “have a black and white answer.”

Even before she arrived at Willamette, Sharkey was on the academic fast-track. She spent her summers at Brown, American and Stanford universities attending weeks-long law programs designed for high school students. She also enrolled in a dual-credit program with her local community college. By the time she graduated, she had earned an associate’s degree and was fully prepared to study politics and go to law school.

A memorable experience

Sharkey made full use of her time at Willamette Law, including working for Willamette Law Online, a publication summarizing U.S. Supreme Court cases and Oregon Court opinions that shape law in the Pacific Northwest, and becoming an editor and writer for the Oregon Courts. 

But she considers her involvement with Street Law the centerpiece of her time at college. After her own experience with expensive high school law programs, she particularly appreciated Street Law’s goal of offering youth interaction with law students, attorneys and judges for free.

“High school is the ideal time to really instill information everyone should know, like how to access the law and how to interact with police,” she says. “Street Law is where I poured my heart and soul and time, and it’s been my pride and joy.”

After she takes Oregon’s bar exam, Sharkey wants to continue to make a direct impact on people’s lives. In the future, she wants to work in appellate courts, likely somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

“The reality of the work is a lot of research and writing,” she says. “But on a more philosophical level, the appellate courts are where you impact and possibly change law.”

This is the third in a series of four profiles of May 2017 graduates.

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