Oregon New Lawyers Division Public Service Award | Jessie Schuh
Oregon State Bar
Jessie Schuh didn’t exactly seek out clemency work. In a way, it found her.
An attorney and Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, Schuh primarily works as a commercial litigator. In addition to her civil work, she has something of a double life as a pro bono attorney. Schuh donates hundreds of hours a year to criminal justice work. She’s particularly passionate about working to win clemency for inmates serving long sentences who were charged with crimes as juveniles. In addition to her own pro bono work, Schuh serves on her firm’s pro bono committee and Campaign for Equal Justice’s associates committee.
“I found that pro bono is a way to meld the two worlds and allow me to do the work that I’m passionate about while getting to work on the cool civil cases that I do,” says Schuh.
It’s also one of the reasons why Schuh was awarded this year’s public service award.
“Jessie has emerged as a leader within our firm on our pro bono efforts,” says Darien Loiselle, a shareholder at Schwabe and the chairman of the firm’s pro bono committee. “Jessie Schuh not only serves as a role model and inspiration for others with her own pro bono work, she also has taken a genuine leadership role in expanding the pro bono program at Schwabe.”
Schwabe’s work with the Ramos Project served as a “catalyst” for Schuh’s involvement with criminal justice cases. But she’s also found her own niche. A large percentage of Schuh’s pro bono hours are dedicated to clemency petitions, particularly juvenile and young adult cases. Each case requires hours of interviews with the client, digging through public records and drafting sometimes dozens of pages of a clemency narrative.
Schuh says that her clients inspire her to put in as many hours as she does.
“Almost all of them had really adverse childhoods, did something horrible and were kind of tossed away and forgotten about by society,” she says. “But quietly, they’ve been really, intentionally working on giving back and focusing on personal growth and have become these amazing people.”
Clemency isn’t the only way Schuh has fought for individuals who felt tossed aside by the justice system. Earlier this year, she won the right for a Mexican-American couple in east Portland to stay in their home of two decades after a neighbor, who for years had subjected Schuh’s clients to racist harassment, tried to force the sale of the couple’s home. Now, Schuh is helping the couple bring claims against their neighbor.
“That one was really impactful because the clients had sort of lost faith in the justice system,” she says. “So being able to step in and protect their rights and now assert their claims and hold (the neighbor) accountable for all the things she’s done over the past 10 years — it just really emphasized how important it is that people have an advocate in the justice system if we want them to have any sort of faith in it.”
However disparate criminal justice cases may seem from commercial litigation, for Schuh, the two work in dialogue.
“The more pro bono work you do, the more you see that you have this unique skill set that has the power to help with a lot of problems that a lot of people are facing,” she says. “I think that one barrier for people — especially new lawyers — in doing pro bono is just this sense that, ‘Oh, I’m a corporate lawyer, there’s no pro bono work I can do that’s pro bono.’ I would just encourage people to be a little bit more confident in the tools you have as a lawyer and really branch out and find things."
Read the full article in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin, where this was originally published.
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