Caleb Huegel JD'20 has always been interested in the relationship between law and government. As a Washington County native, going to Willamette Law, right in the backyard of state government, made a lot of sense.
Before starting law school, he worked at the Oregon Legislature, where he was exposed to land use, transportation, and other planning-related issues. "Until then, I didn’t realize that there's an entire class of professionals whose job it is to decide how communities are laid out, and I didn't appreciate the profound impact that that work has on people’s lives," said Huegel.
His interest grew, and so did his desire to learn more about the field. He joined a student-run case summary service, Willamette Law Online, as a writer for the Land Use Board of Appeals section, and by his second year of law school, he was the section's editor. He took a Land Use Planning course taught by recognized land use expert and Adjunct Professor Edward Sullivan. Then he applied for and was awarded the Edward J. Sullivan Land Use Planning Fellowship.
"The fellowship application process was competitive," said Huegel, "and I knew at the time that I was competing with people who had better grades than me. I suppose my strategy, in writing my cover letter, was to convey how strongly I felt that practicing land use law is my calling."
Over three semesters, Huegel rotated through different land use practice settings. He completed externships with Washington County Counsel, Clackamas County Counsel, and the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) through Willamette Law's externship program. These opportunities enabled him to simultaneously earn credit and spend more time in each setting. That additional time helped him to gain more practical experience, which wouldn’t have been possible if he had to take more classes in order to earn that credit.
To Huegel, the externship experiences have been valuable, enabling him to dive deeply into the field of land use law and develop his expertise in a variety of related practices. While at Washington County Counsel, he learned about compiling the local record in a land use appeal and responding to record objections by other parties. At Clackamas County Counsel, he helped draft response briefs and argued on behalf of the county before LUBA on two occasions, and on each occasion, he won. Then at LUBA itself, he helped draft final opinions and orders, during which he was able to draw on his previous experience with Willamette Law Online.
In his third year of law school, Huegel volunteered as a Student Board Member for a nonprofit, Housing Land Advocates (HLA), which was founded by Professor Sullivan. HLA reviews local government comprehensive plan amendments to ensure that they meet their legal obligations to provide for the housing needs of citizens of the state.
"Housing affordability is an issue that hits home for me, and my experience with HLA gave me an opportunity to not only research relevant state law and learn more about comprehensive planning in general, but also to play a small role in furthering a cause that I support," said Huegel.
During his time at the legislature, his externships, and HLA, Huegel says he’s borne witness to many charged discussions about land use policy. He's found it discouraging how people with genuinely good intentions can be vilified by those on the other side of planning-related issues.
Huegel recognizes that debate is an inherent part of the democratic process and accepts that part of his law school experience has been adjusting to the reality that Oregon's land use system, which prizes public participation, inevitably leads to confrontation.
"A lot of people don't realize it, but land use disputes are often fraught with emotion," said Huegel. "Some people feel very strongly about what their community should look like. Others feel strongly that local governments should prioritize issues of equity, inclusion, and sustainability—aesthetics and 'character of the neighborhood' be damned. Still, others believe, I think correctly, that land use is not a zero-sum game, and that it’s possible to balance these interests in a way that serves everyone."
Huegel has made careful and deliberate work of planning his externship experiences while enriching them with his volunteerism and student activities to support his interest in land use law. "I couldn't have learned the things I did during my externships anywhere else," said Huegel.
"Through these experiences, I've learned that there are things about both private practice and government work that appeal to me," said Huegel. "Many local governments in Oregon contract with private law firms for legal services, so I'm optimistic that I might someday be able to blend the two."
After graduating with his JD in 2020, Huegel accepted an offer of employment as a Staff Attorney for the Land Use Board of Appeals.
About the Willamette University College of Law
The College of Law is a private law school located in Salem, Oregon at Willamette University, the oldest university in the western United States. Willamette Law boasts an innovative program designed to prepare leaders in government, private practice, and business with the lawyering skills needed in the 21st Century. In recent years, outside industry watchers such as Moody’s and The National Jurist Magazine have recognized Willamette Law for its positive job placement results. Willamette lawyers are the best dealmakers, problem solvers, community leaders, and change-makers in the most innovative and exciting region in the country. Our location — nestled in the heart of the Willamette Valley and across the street from the Oregon State Capitol, Supreme Court and many state agencies — is an advantage that cannot be matched anywhere in the region.