Perfecting Her Legal Performance
Willamette’s unique learning environment attracts law students with a wide range of backgrounds, including medical doctors, Olympic athletes and Eagle Scouts. Among students with more unusual skill sets is Sara Avet Cassidey, a classically trained musician with a master’s degree in oboe performance. Although few could have foreseen law school in her future, Cassidey has proven to be a standout among her peers. In addition to holding a top position in the class, she is editor in chief of Willamette Law Review.
The Louisiana native was introduced to the oboe in seventh grade and was immediately hooked. “The oboe is the closest instrument to the human voice in the way it conveys emotion,” she said. “It is a difficult instrument to make sound good. Most beginners sound like they’re playing a duck.”
Cassidey relished the challenge, and her skills grew quickly. Following high school, she enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she played in the wind ensemble and orchestra. By her junior year, she had decided to pursue a career in music performance. After earning a bachelor degree in music, she attended the University of Cincinnati’s College–Conservatory of Music, where she earned a Master of Music in oboe performance in 2002.
After graduation, she lived “the starving artist life,” working as a waitress to help pay the rent. The following year, she visited Oregon and loved it so much that she never left. In addition to teaching oboe in the Portland area, she volunteered with the local Democratic Party. “I met people from all different walks of life,” she said. “It was a reaffirming experience. I’ve had a number of minor contract disputes and have seen the vulnerability people face in these instances. I wanted to find a way to help.”
She started looking at different law schools in the state and visited Willamette. “The faculty and students were warm and inviting,” said Cassidey, who enrolled in August 2006. “It ranks among the best decisions of my life. The collegiality of the student body has lived up to what I had suspected during my visit.”
Cassidey joined Willamette Law Review in the fall of 2007. She was elected editor in chief of the journal the following year. “It has been an interesting experience, learning how to run a publication,” she said of moving from “the trenches” to the editorial board. “The journal really is soaked in the sweat of the board. We all felt a huge sense of accomplishment when our first issue was published.”
In addition to working on Law Review, Cassidey clerked for the Trial Division of the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) for a year and has worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon since May 2008. She handles Central Violations Bureau cases, either by negotiating settlements or going to trial. “I’ve learned that trial work is at the heart of advocacy,” she said. “You have to have true respect, loyalty and love of the law to do trial work.”
When she leaves Willamette, Cassidey will begin a two-year clerkship with Judge Timothy Sercombe of the Oregon Court of Appeals. “I hope to learn what judges look for in arguments, which will help in my future role as an advocate,” said Cassidey, who hopes to return to government practice with the DOJ when the clerkship ends. “I really want to work on Oregon-centric issues. We need good public servants working for the citizens of Oregon.”
Although law has become central to Cassidey’s life, she still has what she jokingly called her “annual séance” with the oboe. “I’ve realized music can be part of my life without having to be the focus of my life,” she said. “I’ve taken a crazy road with a lot of detours, but I feel law school was the right choice for me. Willamette has given me opportunities I never could have conceived of.”