At 14 or 15, Lorena Reynolds knew she wanted to be a lawyer. As a young girl, she had been the victim of a crime and the legal system failed her. She decided she wanted to give others the support she had needed and hadn't received.
And she wanted to change the system.
The legal system in the United States was created centuries ago by men, for men, Reynolds said. It was not designed to tackle modern issues such as sexual violence against women and child abuse.
Now an attorney in private practice at her own firm in Corvallis, Reynolds shepherds women through the legal system and is an advocate for them and for their children in cases of domestic violence, stalking, rape and child abuse.
Nominated by Mary Zelinka and Nancy O'Mara of the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence, Reynolds is one of four recipients of a Women of Achievement award. Each year, OSU's Women's Center presents the awards to honor the contributions and commitment of outstanding women on campus and throughout the state of Oregon whose work has benefited women.
Reynolds fast-tracked her education, graduating high school at 17, and finishing college and then law school each in 3½ years.
In the summer of 1995, she was a law clerk in the district attorney's office in Los Angeles, working in the "hard core gang unit" on gang-related homicide. It was the summer of high-profile murder trials, such as those of O.J. Simpson and brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez.
"I actually worked the Snoop Doggy Dogg case," Reynolds said. The rapper was on trial for murder, and he was acquitted.
In the midst of that rarified atmosphere, she learned something about herself:
"I wasn't really interested in representing the state's interests," Reynolds said. "I was interested in representing the victims' interests."
After law school, she worked for Protective Advocacy, a nonprofit in Los Angeles. In 1997, she moved to Oregon with her husband and worked as an Americorps attorney in Ontario, handling 100 percent domestic and sexual violence cases.
"I really went back to my roots," said Reynolds of her focus on women's issues. "I'm sure you'd have to call me a feminist." She no longer wanted to change the system; she wanted to walk women through it, one woman at a time.
"Walking someone through the system is telling them what to expect," she said. "Being able to explain what I can do and this is what is pointless to expect ... The legal system was established by men, deals with problems men had 200, 300 years ago. The system was not designed to deal with domestic homicide."
And it presents tough choices for an attorney. In child abuse cases, for example, children often have to take the stand and face a lawyer who assumes an adversarial role.
Such situations take an emotional toll on her, but she said she finds solace and support in her Quaker faith and its community. She finds satisfaction in knowing she's making a difference to abused women and battered children.
Reynolds had people in her life who had done the same for her. She recalled a social worker who interviewed her as a girl:
"(She said) ‘Some of us are victims, and some of us choose to be survivors,' " Reynolds said. "I still remember the strength that gave me. It does make a difference."