From High Holborn to SW 5th Ave
My journey from law school in England to the OSB
by Jaimie A. Fender, YLS Futures Committee member
My path to becoming an Oregon attorney could be characterized as "winding" at best. It all really began with first grade, when my father placed me in an experimental French immersion school in Eugene. Over the years, the school name changed several times but the cruel oppression of French grammar and my love for the language, nonetheless, stayed constant. I was in French immersion from first grade through high school. I then went to the U of O and double majored in Archaeology and French. I studied abroad for a year in Poitiers, France, and won a Global Graduates Scholarship which allowed me to work for the summer at the medial archive center for the Poitou-Charentes region. Over several months during my senior year at the U of O, I stalked (legally, yet irritatingly) the human resources director at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) headquartered in Paris, France. The HR director ultimately relented. After graduating from the U of O, I quickly left for Paris and began working at the OECD as a researcher.
Like many international organizations, the OECD promotes job vacancies internally before advertising externally. One day I noticed a job posting on the OECD intranet for a project co-coordinator in the Outreach Unit for Financial Sector Reform (OFSR) within the Directorate for Fiscal, Financial and Enterprise Affairs (DAFFE). I ignored the Ph.D. requirement and skimmed over the desired 10 years working experience. All I could really see was "must be willing to frequently travel internationally." I immediately applied. When I was called in for an interview, I thought they must have read my resume as diligently as I read their job posting. When I was offered the job, I was flabbergasted! At the time, the OFSR was funded directly by the Japanese Ministry of Finance. The team was entirely comprised of Japanese diplomats on loan from the Ministry to the OECD for a two-year term. While the OFSR team spoke English (and no French), they spoke American English. As it turned out, I was the only American who applied for the job. While there were many other candidates who were actually qualified for the position, the team members just could not understand their Cockney or Irish accents ("bully for me," as they say).
I worked for OFSR until the end of 2003. It was a dream job. I traveled to China, Japan, Peru, Honduras, Costa Rica and throughout Western and Eastern Europe. I loved my job, but I knew my luck lightning would not strike twice. I would never have been able to climb the proverbial OECD ladder without a graduate degree; and while I enjoyed what I did for many years, I did not want to be in the same position 10-15 years later, earning the same salary.
The Director of DAFFE at the time was an American named William Witherell. He encouraged me to get a law degree in Europe - a degree that would be "easily" transferable to the US should I return, or it could be used as a graduate degree should I decide to stay within the international social policy environment. It seemed like sound advice. I researched European law schools and decided on London. After all, English Common Law is the foundation of the American legal system and easiest to apply back to the US.
The legal education in England is vastly different from the US model. Education is split into two parts: pure academics and pure practical skills, the thinking being why teach a student practical skills if they cannot grasp the academic foundation. Students can complete the academic foundation at university, or there is the option I took, which is to do an intensive graduate level "conversion" course for those students who already have a university degree. Once you complete the academic foundation, you must then choose your career path - solicitor (transaction attorney) or barrister (litigator). I chose barrister and then I had to complete my practical education, which I did at BPP, a great school with a terrible name. All barristers have to join an Inn of Court (Grey's, Lincoln's, Inner Temple, or Middle Temple). I chose Inner Temple and was called to the Bar in November, 2008.
I returned to Oregon shortly thereafter to figure out my next step. I had clerked for a Portland attorney named Stuart M. Brown earlier during a summer of law school. I called Stu after returning to see if he needed a paralegal. Luckily he was busy and needed help. After a year or two, with the encouragement of Stu and my father, I decided to take the Oregon Bar exam. I had to apply to the Equivalency Panel of the OSB and demonstrate that my education was equivalent. It was a long but worthwhile process. I was given permission to take the exam (permission that had to be given more than once) and I passed the exam in February of this year. I just opened my own solo practice and I also do contract work for Stu. I married another Portland attorney (Christopher E. Fender) last August and we are expecting our first child in early March.
My journey was untraditional, but it has provided me with a unique set of skills, training, and perspective. Through it all, I've been able to see the challenges law students and aspiring attorneys from all over the world must face. Ultimately, after considering all my options and experiences, this legal community was where I wanted to be. My road was certainly winding but what an adventure it was!