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Giving back to Willamette Law

by Sarah Bello,

For three academic years, Cecilia “Cissy” Lee JD’86 traveled to Salem from Reno, Nevada, once a week for thirteen weeks, teaching a class as an adjunct professor in Bankruptcy Law. 

Having always wanted the opportunity to teach, she couldn’t turn then-Dean Curtis Bridgeman down when a professor was needed. In the meantime, she continued running a firm and practicing as an attorney full-time. 

“I was biting off a lot. It was a lot of work,” Lee admits. “But it was also one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my entire life. It was so incredibly rewarding to deal with the students, to help them, to form their minds and form how they approach problems, to expand their law school experience and use all the tools in their toolbox, from all classes, to think about how to solve problems.”

As a member of the school’s Leadership Cabinet since 2012, she has long been a supporter of the work done at Willamette Law

The members of the Leadership Cabinet assist Dean Brian Gallini as a sounding board. They can see the bigger picture at the College of Law, offering advice on future direction, but also moving it forward by participating in activities that enhance day-to-day operations, serving as guest speakers in the classroom and on alumni panels, connecting with students personally, attending events and fundraising.

“I see my involvement as an opportunity to give back to the Willamette community something of what has been given to me,” Lee says. “I feel very strongly that my life wouldn’t have turned out the way it did but for the advantages and experiences and professors that I felt really set me up for success.”

Although her adjunct position was satisfying, Lee was exhausted after three years. After a yearlong break in 2018, she returned to the Leadership Cabinet and plans to continue her involvement as a newly retired attorney in 2023.

Lee says there is incredible leadership within the group and enjoys seeing things move in a positive direction for the law school. Though she is still based in Reno, she makes herself available to prospective students and alumni from the local area to talk through the advantages of or questions they have about Willamette Law.

The Willamette motto, ‘Non nobis solum nati sumus,’ ‘Not unto ourselves alone are we born,’ resonates with Lee and motivates her to give back to her alma mater.

“I think it’s something that is very easy in a cynical world to forget that we didn’t just land somewhere on the planet and find ourselves successful and happy and with accomplishments — there were a lot of things that happened to make that possible,” Lee says. “Certainly in my life, the major driver, aside from my own family, has been my education. So it’s important to me to give back. Willamette has made that very easy for me with the Leadership Cabinet and opportunity to teach.”

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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