As an intern with the Metropolitan Public Defender for the last year, Live Oak High School alumna Jenna Richards’ passion for practicing law continued to grow.
“It just reaffirmed my passion to go into law,” said the 22-year-old Richards. “For a lot of people that come into the public defender’s office, they realize that this is not the work they want to do. For me, it was, ‘This is exactly what I want to do.’”
A senior at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, Richards was in the process of completing her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, law and society with a minor in sociology and was already accepted into six law schools.
But her internship cemented her career path.
“I basically acted as any other legal assistant in the office,” said Richards. “By the second week, I was already going into jails visiting clients by myself. A majority of my work was meeting with clients, getting basic background and contact information, going over their allegations and court dates.”
In that role, Richards—who attended Jackson Elementary and Britton Middle schools—also spoke with client family members and went over third party release procedures.
“I was a little nervous and curious to see what the role would be,” said Richards, who finished Pacific with a 4.0 GPA. “It helped me decide that I really want to go to law school and this is the area I want to get into.”
With a half dozen law schools to choose from, Richards decided on Lewis & Clark in nearby Portland, Oregon. She was also accepted to law schools at Santa Clara University and University of Oregon, among others.
“I ultimately settled on Lewis & Clark,” said Richards, a 2015 Acorn alumna. “It just kind of fit my interests the best.”
Richards—who is founder and president of the Criminal Justice, Law and Society Club at Pacific—wants to work as a public defender and plans to be a criminal justice law major at Lewis & Clark. With a desired focus on juvenile defenders, the Morgan Hill native also wants to be a mentor and tutor, and help with job training for at-risk youth.
“I really like the idea of criminal defense,” she said. “I went into undergraduate knowing that I wanted to be in criminal justice, but was not sure what I wanted to do. … It’s an area where I just felt that I could really affect the most change nationwide.”
At Pacific University, Richards—whose parents and other family members are also Acorn alumni—not only excelled in the classroom, where she worked as a teacher’s assistant in different classes, but the four-year Live Oak High School cheerleader also cheered for a year in college. She plans on returning to Morgan Hill this summer to spend time with family.
“She has a bright future ahead of her,” said Joe Lang, the director of media relations with Pacific University. “(She) is set on reforming the criminal justice system.”