Valuing Diverse Perspectives
“A number of subjects in law school are very sensitive to ethnically diverse people,” said Naomi L. Levelle, president of the Multicultural Law Students Association (MLSA). “We study Brown v. Board of Education and the Dred Scott case. As a minority student, these are hard cases to read, so it is good to have a group to go to and sound off.”
Levelle has been active in MLSA since enrolling in the College of Law in 2004. “I became aware of MLSA during student orientation my first year of school and became involved in the organization almost immediately,” said Levelle, who served as vice president during her second year at Willamette before being elected president for the 2006–07 term. The association brings a number of relevant speakers, seminars and special cultural events to the law school each year. MLSA also runs a vital student mentor program that pairs upper-division law students with ILs and provides academic support to all members of the association.
Although MLSA’s primary mission is to support minorities, Levelle believes the organization is a valuable resource for all law students. “I’m focused on getting all students to interact with MLSA,” explained Levelle, who is of African-American and Native American descent. “Creating an environment where all races and cultures interact and communicate increases our opportunities to learn alternative perspectives.”
For Levelle, finding value in differing points of view is central to the law school experience. “Since coming to Willamette, I’ve certainly learned how to listen and understand and find value in other people’s perspectives,” she said. “It comes partly from being forced to examine and argue both sides of an issue in class.”
Although her father is a Willamette law alumnus, Levelle said she did not initially plan to become a lawyer herself. A Montana native, she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing at the University of Montana–Missoula. She then moved to Portland, Ore., in search of greater job prospects. With the help of her father, Michael David Levelle JD’90, she landed a temp job at a small Portland firm. “The experience really helped determine my career path,” she said. “It got me interested in litigation. I knew that, as a litigator, I would never be bored.”
Levelle applied to a number of law schools, but quickly settled on Willamette. In addition to her work with MLSA, Levelle has been an active member of the Willamette Law Review. She worked as a staff writer for a year before being elected the 2006 symposium editor. In October, she organized and promoted the fall symposium honoring former Oregon Supreme Court Justice Hans A. Linde.
Despite the demands of holding top positions with two student-run groups, Levelle interned with Miller Nash LLP, a top Portland firm, following her first and second years of law school. “I worked in many different areas of the firm with a number of different attorneys,” she said. “I really enjoy the firm’s style and philosophy. Everyone is down to earth, but they set a high standard for professionalism. I knew I would learn a lot from them.”
Levelle, who wants to specialize in litigation and employment law, will have the opportunity to continue that education after law school. The firm has offered her a full-time associate position following her graduation from Willamette.
“Looking back, I don’t know exactly how I got to law school,” she said. “But now that I’m here, I’ve realized it’s exactly where I should be. I had high hopes when I came to Willamette. But what I ended up getting out of it — the friendships and professional connections and the education I received — have far exceeded all my expectations.”