Joseph A. Ureño
Wow. Requirements for law school are completed. Every paper finished, every grade in, every committee stands adjourned. I’ve met some amazing people along the way, many of whom I owe great thanks for inspiring and encouraging me. They are certainly my professors and our Dean, Judges of all levels from circuit court through Supreme, and of course attorneys who work hard every day demonstrating that hard work pays off. But my fellow students with me in the trenches every day have perhaps seemed most awesome of all because I got to see them every day. These colleagues of mine are destined for leadership–I saw it on day one, and it’s more clear now than it’s ever been. They chose our school because it fit them, and dividends have been many.
My own trajectory took me on a path from leading an environmental chemistry laboratory to navigating the nuances of the legal structure seeking to address environmental problems. In some ways I’m fortunate to have been born into an era that has recognized the value of addressing those problems with statutes and agencies. In other ways it’s made me recognize we don’t yet have it right. But it has made me aware that law and policy are the chief guides to navigate the most complex problems of our time, because law is the study of decisions made that reflect our values and best hopes for a sustainable future. While not every decision is groundbreaking or forms precedent, each one is important to have been made. Real people–stakeholders–are well invested in each outcome, and the highest stakes are often the toughest to decide. I’ve never lost sight of how people are affected by each decision, and I’m glad for that.
The environment was my focus for most, if not all, of my career hitherto. But I was always most concerned about how the environment affected people. Environmental stewardship was always a matter of social justice to me, because large environmental problems tend to affect unempowered people more, and they are less able to do anything about it. People are my focus, and law is indeed a “people” profession. Following that logic, I recognized the most personal manifestation of environmental problems is withing ourselves, our bodies: our health.
Health law came to my attention profoundly by two special scholars at our school. One is a J.D., M.D. and the other is a seasoned Yale scholar in the subject. I’m still amazed I had direct access to their teaching and guidance. I will always be grateful to have met them, no just because they’re so smart, but because they’re good people who have made meaningful contributions to the field. They helped me get clear on so many aspects of health law and to gather my own thoughts on the subject. If I have success in pursuing a career within it, it’s because they guided me so well.
I wrote my capstone (something like a law school thesis) on the subject of complementary and alternative medicine and the law. I was fascinated by the gap between can (i.e. actual skills) and may (i.e. jurisdictional permissions granted to a practitioner to use those skills. In fact, it has become my mission to explore and bear out how one type of practitioner–naturopathic physicians–are to be included in mainstream primary care. For many reasons, they have been historically excluded from licensure regimes in many states, but here in Oregon they have the most extensive scope of practice of any jurisdictions. So, it feels a bit of serendipity to be placed where I can really explore that much more deeply.
So, I remain fascinated, and as I move forward I’ll be bearing out the journey by studying what naturopaths do, and the many nuances where law and medicine meet. I intend to start a blog about that exploration, which I think will be unique, and I hope enlightening both to me and anyone who chooses to read it.
For now, though, I’m preparing for the arrival of my family and friends as we prepare for graduation ceremonies. I’m so excited about that! I get to introduce a dear mentor and friend on the Court of Appeals who is a keynote speaker at our Baccalaureate. I am also being inducted into our school’s Cornelius Honor Society, a gift of the faculty and staff by which I was truly surprised and deeply humbled.
But I say this in closing, particularly because I know applicants read these blogs. I was elected to serve as a student representative on our school’s admissions committee, and I have these general observations. I believe that heeding them helped me, and that they will help you when you choose to apply to law school.
Do the best you can, and carry yourself with the highest standards. In terms of numbers, the latter matters more than the former. Engage your community, because caring counts. And be yourself–have the integrity and courage to do so, and be forthright. You do belong and are a good fit somewhere. Maybe that place is Lewis & Clark. If so, you’re in for a wonderful experience.
Studying in the sun is awesome. It’s about 75 degrees Fahrenheit and I’m making vitamin D–I’m sure of it. I’m at a favorite cafe called Ava Roasteria in Tigard, OR (a few miles from campus) that’s open 24 hours and it’s really pretty here. There’s a reservoir to look upon, and on days like this, there’s this fountain that kids play in all day. It’s just a series of water streams that come out of the pavement by pressing a button. The kids have mastered it, albeit very young for the most part. This area sports more diversity than Portland despite its size, so it reminds me a lot of my hometown in California. People of all descents seem to visit this cafe: African-Americans, Mexicans, South Americans, Persians, Indians, Chinese, and ones I might not know–and I feel a great sense of comfort at how they are all Oregonians. As I hope to join the Oregon State Bar myself, I hope the diversity of the state will grow and that I can be part of that trend and its future. My law school experience has been amazing, and I can’t believe it’s ending but simultaneously I feel the call of the work ahead pulling me forward. I’m where I’m supposed to be. And it feels good.
So this is the last week of law school for me before I go into finals. I’m finishing papers, giving a presentation on the inclusion of new classes of primary care practitioners to address the healthcare crisis, and generally going full force trying to complete everything that I must before taking finals. It’s at once impossible and yet totally within the abilities I’ve developed. Lewis & Clark has prepared me to think and act clearly under pressure, to respond and produce under whatever circumstances I’m presented. I don’t know if it’s also Portland’s influence that I tend to be calmer or whether it’s simply knowing what to do and how to do it that give me peace and presence. It’s obviously influenced my language. But I feel good about my work here, and the work I will do. I’m a workhorse, and a happy one. What’s next for me is amazing. I’ve got options I couldn’t have imagined, and I’ve got support beyond my hopes. It keeps me motivated that my mission to use everything I’ve learned to help shape the future of healthcare in a more responsive and inclusive way will be fulfilled. And while it was a long path getting here, I am confident that the law school has helped me become who I hoped. After finals I’ll have more time to reflect and give a more thoughtful essay tying things together, but I thought I’d check in. I’ve enjoyed blogging for the school, and I actually know my ties to what will be my alma mater will be strong because of the special people that helped create the edifying experience it has been.