Close Menu
[AfterWORD]
Whitworth alumni in their own words

Grace and the Legal System

By Carissa Greenberg, '06

Carissa GreenbergI heard once that our sense of smell is one of the strongest senses associated with memory. That's proved true for me every fall I've lived in Eastern Washington. When the air noticeably transitions to fall, the smell reminds me of walking across the Whitworth campus. Usually, I become nostalgic as I think about the relationships I developed with professors and fellow students. But this year, as I walk across a deserted parking lot in Yakima after a long day of work, the fall air causes me to think about the role Whitworth played in leading me here to serve Washington state as an assistant attorney general.

Back in 2002, I walked onto the Whitworth campus interested in setting myself up to attend law school. I was directed to Julia Stronks, a professor in the political studies (now political science) department. When I met with her, I expected she would give me a recipe of classes and internships that, if I followed it, would propel me to success in law school.

Julia's advice, however, was anything but formulaic. Aside from encouraging me to take some introductory political science courses, she gave me a piece of advice that guided my entire college education. She said, "You will undoubtedly leave Whitworth able to write well and think critically, which will help you succeed in law school. The most important thing is to use your time here to discover who you are, what you believe, and what your responsibilities are to the world."

I welcomed Whitworth's opportunities to go beyond the "pine-cone curtain": I volunteered at the Spokane County Public Defender's Office; I took a Jan Term class in Chicago, studying organizations and programs that aid the underprivileged; and my theatre senior project involved using community-based theatre with teenagers at a local alternative school and homeless shelter to build communication skills. These experiences, in addition to my other coursework, caused me to struggle with the implications of my unearned privilege. I developed an understanding that the world isn't black and white, and consequently, what it means to be a Christian in this world isn't black and white, either.

I entered law school with a sense of responsibility, rooted in faith. I wanted to use my future law degree to help the less fortunate. After I was licensed as an attorney, I spent almost two years at a private firm in Olympia, representing individuals who were denied Social Security disability benefits. Social Security laws and regulations can be confusing, especially for someone who is consumed by physical pain and/or battling mental impairments, and I found this work rewarding because my clients could not advocate for themselves independently.

At the end of 2011, I joined the Washington State Attorney General's Office as an assistant attorney general. The A.G.'s office represents state agencies, and the client agency I represent is the Department of Social and Health Services. I primarily represent DSHS in cases initiated by Child Protective Services, in which the state believes a child has been abused or neglected or isn't receiving adequate care. Through these cases, we help and protect children. In fact, many situations from which CPS removes children are similar to those my Social Security clients endured when they were children – situations that very likely contributed to the mental impairment that renders them unable to sustain employment. I like to think that our intervention helps mitigate this impact on the children DSHS protects.

Despite the importance of this work and how strongly I feel about it, I continue to challenge myself with the advice that Julia gave me back in 2002. Now that I am a practicing attorney, these are questions I ask myself: Is there a just result in this situation? If so, is that result provided for by law? Does this situation have only one just outcome? What role does grace play in our legal system? Or does grace even have a role?

Please join us July 9-11, 2015, when Whitworth will host a continuing legal education event and reunion for Whitworthians working in or retired from the legal profession. I look forward to discussing these questions with my fellow Whitworthians, and if you are an attorney or judge, I hope you will join us. Contact the alumni & parent relations office at alumni@whitworth.edu or 509.777.3799, or visit www.whitworth.edu/attyreunion.