I am writing this post to say farewell to the Oregon legal community, as my last day at the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program will be November 3, 2020. It will be a bittersweet parting, as I have been fortunate to have served our community for 21 years by helping people and building community, which has always been and remains my personal mission.
Back in the ‘90s, I was a fan of then−Assistant Director/Program Attorney of the OAAP, Michael J. Sweeney. I met him by asking for an appointment with him. I don’t think I even knew the term “informational interview” at the time. He had a twinkle in his eye and brought hope with every look, smile, and word. I knew then that I wanted to work at the OAAP as a program attorney (what the attorney counselors used to be called). There was magic in the room, and I knew I needed to work with that guy, to provide hope and counseling to lawyers, and to be in his presence. The man was as much my inspiration as the job itself. It seems like five minutes later, there was an opening. I applied, but Sweeney said to go practice law for a while, get five years of experience, and then come back.
So I did.
Sure enough, five years later, there it was − the ad for my perfect job. It would allow me to help people, build community and hopefully, like Sweeney, provide hope. I started on September 15, 1999.
The first six years were amazing, and sometimes tough. We all worked really hard, built programs, and kept serving individuals.
In 2006, Michael became ill and needed to retire. At a team meeting of OAAP staff, he passed a symbolic torch to me to become the assistant director. That little torch lived in my office, along with a picture of him, all of these years. His legacy was to always remain hopeful and, in so doing, project hope to others.
In the years that followed, just like in the years prior, I was able to serve the legal community of Oregon by working one-on-one with people, and by creating and facilitating groups and programs. I was fortunate to also help train and coordinate our OAAP attorney counselors and work closely with our program assistant and office manager. I loved training attorney counselors and consulting and debriefing and brainstorming and creating groups and programs and learning from them and from you, the members of the legal community.
And I loved and still love helping people and building community. I love providing hope and a safe space. I love helping people in crisis come back to center. I love being a catalyst for change and assisting at life’s crossroads. I love being a part of an amazing team, and I love being a part of a movement to change the legal culture to pick up the banner of well-being and run with it.
Working at the OAAP has been a calling. It started with a man with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. It has been an honor to serve the legal community of Oregon. I will miss you all!
Shari R. Pearlman, LCSW, JD