by Marcus Swift, NWJP Staff Attorney
“Whirlwind” is the word I use to describe my first nine weeks as the newest staff attorney at Northwest Workers’ Justice Project.
I stepped into our office on the 11th floor in downtown Portland in late-August for my first day of work. I did so as a brand new lawyer ready to finally practice law. As a law student I had the privilege of working at a legal aid office, a public defender’s office, DACA workshops, and an immigration clinic. I interviewed clients, filed motions, and appeared in court. It was valuable practical experience, but it does not compare to raising your right hand and swearing an oath to the Constitution and becoming a member of the bar.
I arrived at NWJP a week before law clerks started the fall semester, five weeks before our annual event, and six weeks before our entire office moved nine floors below. So, in other words, there was a lot going on.
In that short time, I’ve sent my first demand letter to an employer. I’ve interviewed potential clients. I’ve attended our annual event where generous people donated, laughed, ate, drank, and listened to great speakers. I’ve drafted a federal complaint. I’ve learned from other lawyers in Portland and across the country about topics like collections and properly drafted pleadings. I’ve counted on clerks for great research. I’ve turned to coworkers and supervisors for advice. I’ve lobbied lawmakers to raise the minimum wage. I’ve participated in meetings to discuss strategies to combat wage theft. I’ve carried boxes and moved furniture. And I’ve become part of an amazing team, all in only two months.
What I have seen at NWJP is a staff full of friendly, passionate, hard working people who do an incredible amount of work with limited time and resources. I have witnessed an organization that does so much important work in so many areas, and does so with an efficiency and effectiveness that I have rarely witnessed at larger organizations. And it’s all done without any state or federal funding.
I have also met (and been honored to represent) dedicated, courageous, hard working clients who want to care for their families, participate in their community, and be treated with the same dignity and respect that is afforded to others; people who want a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work; people who believe that employers should follow the rules.
It’s been a whirlwind, to be sure. It’s also been incredibly enriching, rewarding, and exciting. And I know the newness will wear off and some of the rose coloring will fade out of my glasses. There will be rough days and frustrating losses. The justice system will not always seem so just. But I have no doubt that NWJP will still be doing so much, for so many, with so little. And I will be proud to be a small part of it.