This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of Penn Law’s Public Interest Program, which since its inception has made Penn Law a leader among United States law schools in fostering an ethos of public service. On May 18, 1989, the Law School’s faculty instituted the requirement that Penn Law students complete at least 70 hours of pro bono service before they graduate. Penn Law was the second school in the country to launch this program, and the school’s leadership inspired other law schools to follow suit, establishing public service as an integral part of training for new lawyers.
In April, the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC) celebrated thirty years of the public service program at the Pro Bono Service Recognition Dinner. There, more than three dozen students, faculty, staff, and community partners were recognized for their exceptional pro bono achievements and service to the public. Dean Ruger presented the Beacon Award to David Skeel, Penn Law’s S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law.
“Penn Law’s Public Interest Program provides a vital component of legal education, instilling in our students an ethos of public service that stays with them throughout their careers,” said Ted Ruger, Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law. “In the decades to come, with the leadership of TPIC and in collaboration with our community partners, Penn Law will continue investing in the future of the legal profession by emphasizing and supporting the role of public service in the practice of law.”
In the three decades since the start of the Public Interest Program, Penn Law students and staff have made a lasting impact through their work. Nearly 7,000 students have graduated after fulfilling the pro bono service hours requirement, with more than 90% of graduates typically exceeding that amount. So far, that has meant more than 600,000 hours of pro bono service with over 350 community partners across the country and around the globe.
Under the leadership of Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, Associate Dean and TPIC’s Executive Director, and the public interest team, TPIC continues to push forward with Penn Law’s commitment to public service, working to find innovative new and better ways to serve the many communities who benefit from pro bono legal services. For example, through the MOBILE TEAMS initiative, led by Staff Attorney Sarah Egoville, Penn Law students provide legal services throughout Pennsylvania. During spring break, students serve with national and global partners as well.
“Over three decades, we have developed a strong infrastructure for building partnerships that channel the time and talent of Penn Law students to communities in need,” said Rivera Finkelstein. “Our goal is to work with community partners to expand their capacity to serve underrepresented communities. As our programs evolve, we seek to meet clients where they are, minimizing countless barriers to access, and delivering high quality service to those in greatest need.”
Today, TPIC supports more than 20 student-led pro bono projects, covering six practice areas, including animal and environmental rights, education, global, civil and political rights, economic justice, and criminal justice. Student leadership and entrepreneurship is core to TPIC’s growing service programs, as students identify new projects and opportunities to serve every year. TPIC guides more than 100 student leaders in managing pro bono projects, and many of these students will continue to advocate for justice throughout their careers – in their pro bono work from the private sector, or as public sector attorneys. TPIC collaborates with Penn Law’s office of Career Planning and Professionalism to help students navigate entry into careers in public interest law. With guidance from TPIC, Penn Law graduates go on to serve the public interest in a range of arenas, from non-profit organizations to the government. Over the years, many Penn Law graduates continue to work with TPIC by supervising students in their pro bono work.
To learn more about Penn Law’s three decades of public service impact and hear from students and graduates who have participated in the program, watch the video below:
Felicia Lin L’08, Interim Dean of Students: I think what 30 years of pro bono opportunities and this law school means is that it shows the outside world what we all know when we’re in this building, which is that students can do amazing things in the public interest.
Britney Wilson L’15: Service was not even about a requirement for me, it was something that was already going to be a mandatory part of what I was doing because that was my reason for entering the law. So, I was glad to know that Penn had a structure in place for us to do things like that and particularly for students to take on their own initiatives and run pro bono projects.
Jaime Gullen L’12: As a law student having the opportunity that dedicates so much time to thinking about how to serve clients and communities especially in our own backyard at Penn, working with low-income clients around Philadelphia on such important issues was really transformative.
Michael D. LiPuma, Esq. L’94: As for the students themselves, it’s an absolute privilege to supervise them. Every year, I’m amazed at what an incredible combination of heart and head that the students display. they really show such as empathy for the clients and yet are willing to willing and able to put their skills to use to help those clients in a very concrete way.
Wilson: Everyone might not go into a career of public service but everyone is going to be a functioning attorney out in the world and so that means having a certain awareness of what’s going on and how to address different types of problems.
Joanna Viseer Adjoian L’10: We’re operating in a very resource-scarce environment. you would not be able to do the work that we do every day on our youth cases if it weren’t for the added capacity that YAP brings to YSRP and to our work on behalf of young people facing charges in the adult system.
Lin: There’s something like 25 student-run pro-bono projects, there’s all the programming that TPIC runs — the amount of pro bono you can do at this school, the variety of interests the variety of opportunities is amazing and it makes me wish that I was back in law school as a student.
2018-19 Pro Bono Recognition Award Recipients
Volunteers of the Year
Khari Cyrus L’19 – School Discipline Advocacy Service
Cassandra Dula L’21 – International Refugee Assistance Project
Leilabari Giwa-Ojuri L’20 – Youth Advocacy Project
Brian Golger L’20 – Penn Law Immigrant Rights Project
Emily Losi L’21 – Custody and Support Assistance Clinic
Beatrix Lu L’20 – Penn Law Immigrant Rights Project
Anna Marion L’19 – Penn Law Walk-In Legal Assistance Project
Jesse McGleughlin L’20 – Youth Advocacy Project
Mary Ann McNulty L’21 – Innocence Project
Sabrina Merold L’20 – Women’s Law Project
Denis Metin L’20 – Employment Advocacy Project
Megan Murphy L’20 – If/When/How
Leslie Reid L’21 – International Human Rights Advocates
Josh Salzer L’20 – Youth Education Project
Catherine Shaw L’19 WG’19 – Veterans Law Project
Michael Schuster L’20 – Pardon Project
Jeffrey Turben L’21 – Environmental Law Project
Leaders of the Year
Arianna Brill L’19 – Youth Advocacy Project
Anne Corbett L’20 & John Plotz L’19 – If/When/How: Direct Service/Advocacy
Neil Deininger L’20 – Democracy Law Project
William Fedullo L’19 – Custody and Support Assistance Clinic
Ellyn Jameson L’20 – Penn Law Immigrant Rights Project
Emily Kyle L’20 – International Refugee Assistance Project
Emily Lubin L’19 – Criminal Record Expungement Project
Anya Perret L’19 – Custody and Support Assistance Clinic
Abigail Samuels L’19 – Criminal Record Expungement Project
Supervisors of the Year
Richard Prebil – Veterans Law Project
Kimberly Quintero – Penn Law Immigrant Rights Project
Emily Robb – Youth Advocacy Project
Julia Simon-Mishel L’13 – Employment Advocacy Project
Jacob Speidel – SeniorLAW Center
Michael LiPuma L’94 – Penn Law Walk-In Legal Assistance Project
David Hill – Guild Food Stamp Clinic