Year in Review Letter from Dean Smock

Dean Erica Smock

July 2, 2024

Dear Friends of the Public Interest/Public Service (PI/PS) Community,

As I reflect back, I want to start by acknowledging how challenging this year has been for our students and our school and the dissonance that comes with celebrating at this time. Yet, the events of the past year make it even more important to draw hope from the work of our committed and exceptional public interest community. 

And there certainly is much to be inspired by. It has been a landmark year for public interest at Columbia. The PI/PS Office began the year with a strategy for enhancing the experience, community, and career support for public interest students, and I am thrilled that this strategy has achieved key successes: 

1.  We achieved a 40% increase in the number of 3L students going into public interest after graduation (from 44 last year to 77 this year, excluding clerkships). This is clear evidence that Columbia Law School has truly become a launchpad for students seeking public interest/public service careers. 

2.  We created 12 new postgraduate fellowship positions this year, through out-of-the box thinking by the PI/PS and development teams and the generosity of our devoted alumni. These fellowships place graduates in a variety of justice-oriented organizations and public interest positions. I am deeply proud of our success in envisioning and building these fellowships, adding to the distinguished array of postgraduate fellowship opportunities for CLS students.

3.  We created a new, inclusive community—the Columbia Public Interest Community (CPIC)—that supports all students exploring public interest, regardless of their eventual career choices.

Please read more about these and other developments below. I count these successes as some of the most satisfying experiences of my career. Please join me in celebrating the PI/PS students at CLS and the achievements of our remarkable community. 

Student Highlights

  • Seventy-seven 3Ls are entering public interest or public service employment this year—the largest cohort in recent years (and almost double the number from previous years). This is approximately 15% of the graduating class. Some recent graduates are beginning their careers with prestigious fellowships; read more about some of these awardees here and here. (See more on our postgraduate fellowship programs below.)

  • Our students exhibit an exceptional commitment to “giving back” in so many ways. In April, we honored 250 3Ls and LL.M.s who demonstrated their dedication to justice while at CLS (through pro bono work, summer internships, leadership and public interest roles on campus, racial justice advocacy, human rights activities, and so much more). This marked a 50% increase in the number of honorees from 2023. We were thrilled to celebrate these amazing students at our annual Public Interest Honors Reception, with distinguished graduate Andrea McChristian as the keynote speaker.

  • Our students are promoting justice all over the world this summer! We have the largest group of students ever —33—participating in our Human Rights Internship Program (HRIP), which funds summer work in international human rights advocacy (and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year!). This year’s HRIP participants are working in a diverse range of countries, including the Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Costa Rica, Mexico, Trinidad, Malta, Cambodia, Turkey, and Switzerland. Learn about past HRIP-ers’ experiences in the GambiaThailand, and Mexico.

  • Two hundred and sixty-one 1Ls and 58 2Ls are working at domestic public interest, government, or judicial internships throughout the U.S. via our generous Columbia Summer Funding program. These students are tackling a wide range of issues, including public defense, voting rights, civil legal services focused on employment, housing, and domestic violence, and more.

  • Five students won Peggy Browning Fellowships to work in labor rights this summer, as many as Columbia Law School has had in the past eight years combined.

New and Expanding Initiatives

  • This year we launched the Columbia Public Interest Community (CPIC), a network for all students interested in social justice, regardless of the sector they will work in after graduation. The network arose out of a widespread desire to expand the  community for public interest students and strengthen bonds between students while enriching their experience at the Law School. More than 200 students across class years have joined the community and attended coffee hours, faculty lunch salons and office hours, and other events. This coming year, CPIC will add a student advisory board and other exciting features—stay tuned! 
Graphic depicts the PI/PS Office's relationship to public interest at CLS. The text “PI/PS Office” is at the center of two rings. At the inner ring's top, bottom, left, and right are boxes representing PI/PS programs: Human Rights Internship Program, Columbia Public Interest Community, Berger Fellows, and pro bono. Each box has an arrow that points to “PI/PS Office.” The outer ring features circles representing non-PI/PS programs: student groups, HRI 1L Advocates, David Polk Leadership Program, "and more!"
  • Columbia Law School students enjoy more exclusive public interest fellowship opportunities than nearly any other law school in the country. We have expanded these opportunities over recent years, and we added two this year:  This fall, we announced the Columbia Justice Fellowship, which places CLS J.D. graduates with a select group of impact litigation organizations for two years. This fellowship was made possible by our partnerships with alumni at storied civil rights organizations, including NAACP LDF, NYCLU, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF.
  • One of the Law School's most generous public interest donors, Max Berger ’71, made a gift this spring to fund 20 public interest/public service Pathways Fellowships for graduating 3Ls!! Recipients will serve as one-year postgraduate fellows at a broad array of organizations and government offices, as part of our longstanding Pathways Fellowship program. Some of these new fellowships were awarded in May, and others will be available to 2025 graduates. We are so grateful to Max and his family for their ongoing generosity. In addition to endowing the Max Berger ’71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program and the Berger Enhanced LRAP Fellowship, his firm,  Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann (BLB&G), supports the BLB&G Enhanced LRAP Fellowship.

Other Notable Updates

  • We are thrilled that CLS has added another public interest full admission tuition scholarship, bringing the total to five. Read about the gift that enabled the scholarship.  
  • We welcomed our fifth class of Max Berger ‘71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellows (“Berger Fellows”) in fall 2023 and have grown our alumni network to include three classes of graduates. This year, Berger Fellows continued to benefit from strong mentorship from faculty and practitioners and explored new ways to hone their public interest lawyering skills, including via a new program on best practices and ethical considerations when working with interpreters. Fellows also engaged in reflective learning on topics ranging from incorporating a human rights framework in international and domestic public interest practice, community lawyering and working with organizers, liberation movement lawyering, and more. Berger Fellows strengthened bonds with each other through social events, such as happy hours, a jazz concert at Juilliard, and a CU basketball game. Finally, we were thrilled to create new opportunities to support students outside the Berger Program, such as a fellows-led panel on careers in impact litigation and a clerkship “meet and greet” with practitioners.
  • Our graduates and future classes benefited from significant enhancements to Columbia’s LRAP program to reflect growing interest in public interest law firms—an area in which our office has built significant expertise.
  • We were inspired by civil rights lawyer and CLS graduate Kristen Clarke ’00, who spoke movingly at our Law School graduation this May.
  • Getting to Know the PI/PS Team

Did you know that……

  • Kerry McLean, director of human rights and public international law, was a featured speaker at the international PILNET conference this fall?

  • Our specialist career advisers have a range of outside interests: Hasan Shafiqullah works as a professional baker and teaches immigration law at Cardozo Law School, Emily Harris is a part-time florist, and Grace Shim teaches at CUNY Law School?

  • Avery Whitted, pro bono and summer programs coordinator, is a professional actor in his spare time?

  • I received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the NYC Bar Association for my gender justice work as part of the Fifth Annual International Law Conference on the Status of Women this spring? 

    This is just a quick snapshot of some of our team members. Read about the whole team!

    As the need for justice is ever apparent, we are so honored to help shape the next generation of change agents at Columbia Law School. The Class of 2024’s achievements show that Columbia is a real force for public interest and a home for students who want to use their careers to fight for justice. Thank you for your partnership!

    With gratitude,
    Erica Smock
    Dean for Public Interest/Public Service Law and Careers
    Columbia Law School

Annual Year in Review Letters

June 27, 2023

Dear Friends of SJI, 

As we close the 2022-2023 academic year, we celebrate our students and graduates who have pursued many opportunities to serve the public interest and to advance justice, both on and off campus. The Columbia Law School public interest community accomplished many exciting things this year—and we are pleased to share some of these accomplishments with you! 


Changing Our Name: We’re pleased to announce that, along with the other two career offices at Columbia Law School, SJI will be changing its name. Starting this fall, we will be the “Office of Public Interest/Public Service Law and Careers” (or “PI/PS Office” for short). While our role, vision, and services will not be changing, our new name will better reflect our day-to-day activities, bring more clarity for students and employers, and help reduce confusion about the role of each career office. 

Pro Bono: Exciting changes to the pro bono program will go into effect this fall. These changes will primarily benefit public interest students by (1) allowing 1L spring pro bono work to “count” towards the graduation requirement and (2) giving pro bono credit for 2L summer public interest internships. We worked closely with the Student Senate, the Student Affairs Committee, and the Public Interest/Public Service Lawyering (PIPSL) Committee to facilitate these changes, and we are very pleased with the result! More information will be provided soon. 

Financial Support for Public Interest:

  • Loan Repayment Program (LRAP): This fall, Dean Lester announced significant additional enhancements to our LRAP, making Columbia the leader among top law schools in postgraduate financial support for public interest careers. In addition, we are pleased that the Financial Aid Office will start collecting and releasing data about LRAP recipients’ experience and career trajectories, which will be a wonderful supplement to our public interest salary survey and other existing data. At student request, the Financial Aid Office will also hold a new LRAP information session during orientation with 1Ls. This will supplement our existing programs focused on financing a public interest career.
  • Summer Funding: We continue to raise the pay rate for Columbia Summer Funding (CSF)—which is now $23.50/hour (and includes paid holidays). We have also added provisions to make the program more flexible for 2Ls and broaden the categories of eligible work. Our summer funding programs continue to be a standout among peer schools and serve over 300 students every year.


  • Our recent J.D. and LL.M. graduates have secured impressive fellowships and positions at a variety of public interest, human rights, and government employers throughout the world. Please read more about this year’s fellowship awardees
  • This summer, we will resume our practice of surveying alumni about their career trajectories, specifically aiming to capture information about transitions between sectors and the individual and systemic factors that influence those transitions, beginning with this year’s reunion classes. This is information that current students are eager to obtain and will be helpful to our work going forward.

Centering Racial Justice: My work with the Law School’s Anti-Racism Coordinating Committee and Anti-Racism Grantmaking Program continues. This year, as before, I also led the Selection Committee for the Racial and Social Justice Fellowships, which support 2L students who intend to pursue racial or social justice work after graduation. Please read about this year’s recipients. Our own SJI Intersectional Justice Subcommittee has continued to engage in important racial justice work, including hosting a fireside chat on the topic of reparations for slavery, based on a segment from Repair.

Max Berger ‘71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program:

  •  I am pleased to report that the Max Berger ’71 Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program has completed its fourth year with great success! In May, we celebrated the graduation of a second class of Berger Fellows, all of whom have secured postgraduate positions in the public sector at organizations including the Department of Justice, Brooklyn Defenders, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Physicians for Human Rights! Members of this graduating class have also secured eight clerkships across the country. I am thrilled to see an increase in the diversity of Columbia Law students entering the public sector immediately upon graduation, which I believe will enrich the fields they pursue in many ways.
  • Earlier in the year, the program welcomed its fourth cohort of fellows, consisting of students with interests in criminal defense, immigrants’ rights, and disability law, among others. We also welcomed back alumni to serve as mentors for our current fellows. 
  • With two classes of graduates under our belt, we are extremely optimistic about the future of this program and are proud of its continued growth and success. We look forward to continuing to support our fellows in their future endeavors.

Public Interest Honors Reception: On April 19, we honored 165 members of the Class of 2023 who went “above and beyond” in public interest or pro bono work while at the Law School. We also celebrated Distinguished Graduate of the Year Anurima Bhargava ’02, founder and director of Anthem of Us, a strategic advisory and consulting firm that centers dignity, justice, and belonging in workplaces, schools, and communities. Learn about the honorees.

Addressing the Supreme Court:  SJI has continued to spearhead Law School initiatives related to issues and cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In September, we kicked off our “SJI Monday” programming with a joint discussion led by practitioners of two major decisions from the prior term involving reproductive rights and the Second Amendment. In October, another SJI Monday program addressed a major pending case before the court involving Native rights. SJI has also worked closely with faculty to support student engagement on issues arising from the court. For example, in September 2022, SJI created a student-facing list of resources on current issues related to the Supreme Court. 

International Outreach: We continued our global outreach efforts this year, visiting human rights employers in Geneva and Bangkok, as well as connecting with employers from all over the world at the annual PILnet conference in Dublin. These outreach trips have been very fruitful—for example, we have Human Rights Internship Program (HRIP) participants interning this summer with new organizations based in South Africa, Uganda, Gambia, Netherlands, and Belgium as a result of these outreach efforts. 

Continued Public Interest Support: Dean Lester’s recent letter to the community provides additional information about Columbia’s public interest goals and accomplishments, and we are very grateful for her continued leadership and support.

Facts and Figures

  • 269 1L and 77 2L students are working at domestic public interest, government, or judicial internships through our Columbia Summer Funding Program. Nineteen additional students (16 1Ls and three 2Ls) are participating in our Human Rights Internship Program, which funds summer work abroad focused on international human rights advocacy.
  • 245 members of the Class of 2023 exceeded the 40-hour pro bono requirement, with the graduating class completing a total of over 26,000 hours of pro bono service. Students participated in 20 Spring Break Pro Bono Caravans this year (some remotely and some in person) throughout the U.S. and overseas, including in Kenya and Germany. Students volunteered with several public interest organizations focused on public defense, immigrants rights, environmental law, criminal appeals, and domestic violence, among others.

We look forward to continuing to foster a strong public interest community at Columbia Law School, and we are so grateful for your partnership and support. 


Erica Smock
Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering
Columbia Law School

June 22, 2022

Dear Friends of SJI, 

As we close the 2021-22 academic year, I want to reflect on how Social Justice Initiatives (SJI) and the Columbia community have successfully navigated a year that ends with us closer to “normalcy” than we have been in a while. It was a pleasure to welcome students back to campus this year, and I am so glad that we have been able to return to in-person advising, events, and programs. My pride in our students (and alumni) knows no limits, and it’s been incredible to journey with them as they achieve great things! And SJI continues to evolve and grow, both as a career office and a wraparound support center. I’m pleased to share this report with you and welcome your thoughts, questions, or insights as we plan for the year ahead. 


Continuing recent trends, we have a sizable number of graduating students entering the public interest, human rights, and government sectors this year. We are thrilled to launch this new generation of change agents! Many have secured entry-level positions at some of the most notable public interest and public service organizations. Others have been awarded coveted postgraduate fellowships such the Skadden Fellowship, Phillips Fellowship at the Office of the Solicitor General, and newly launched Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossman Fellowship, created for one Columbia graduate every year. Please read more about this year’s impressive fellowship awardees

Deepening Access to Public Interest Opportunities:

As a member of the Law School’s Anti-Racism Coordinating Committee, I am co-chairing a faculty working group focused on addressing barriers for students of color and first-generation students in accessing public interest opportunities and careers. The working group has met regularly this year to study existing barriers and financial gaps, dialogue with students, assess data, and generate ideas for change. We are now working to conceptualize concrete next steps in hopes of further deepening access to public interest careers for all students at Columbia Law, regardless of personal circumstance, and to build on the generous financial support and other resources that currently exist (please read more below.)

Centering Racial Justice:

For the second year, I was thrilled to chair the selection committee for five $25,000 Racial and Social Justice Fellowships, which support 2L students who intend to pursue racial or social justice work after graduation. (Please learn more about this year’s amazing recipients.) I also co-chaired the selection committee for the Anti-Racism Grantmaking Program. These grants fund community efforts to combat structural racism, and the awardees this year will make long-lasting change. Our own SJI Racial Justice Subcommittee has continued to address issues of racial justice within the Law School, implement programming that addresses racial justice issues, and develop resources for students. 

Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program and Council:

  • This year, we received a $3.3 million gift from Max W. Berger ’71 and his wife Dale to endow the Public Interest/Public Service (PI/PS) Fellows Program, which has been renamed in Max’s honor! This generous gift will support the programming, professional development, academic and career support services, and community-building activities that have become a core part of the PI/PS Fellows’ experience. 

  • The program has grown tremendously over the past three years! We welcomed our third cohort of PI/PS Fellows this past fall, enabling us to reach full capacity for the program for the first time. We are also thrilled to report that members of the program's inaugural cohort are now graduates and have successfully secured impressive postgraduate positions in the public sector - at Human Rights Watch, Center for Appellate Litigation, Clooney Foundation for Justice, Manhattan Legal Services, Bronx Defenders, the White House and Federal Trade Commission to name a few. We look forward to celebrating their accomplishments advancing social justice in the years to come.

  • Our Public Interest/Public Service Council, composed of 100+ distinguished alumni at the forefront of public interest and government, continues to grow. Several members of the council (and many Law School faculty) serve in leadership roles in the Biden Administration—including Secretary of State Antony Blinken ’88 and Vice Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Jocelyn Samuels ’82. Our students continue to enjoy connecting with, and being inspired by, this incredible group of social justice leaders.

Expanding Financial Supports for Public Interest/Public Service:

Columbia continues to be a leader in funding for public interest/public service students and graduates. This year, we: 

  • Raised the wage rate for students in Columbia Summer Funding to $23/hour and expanded 2L CSF funding from 10 to 12 weeks. (Unlike programs at peer schools, this funding is available to all Columbia Law School students working in the public sector, and does not depend on the financial situation of the student.) We also expanded opportunities for 1Ls to receive CSF funding for 10 weeks of work.

  • Announced new enhancements to our already generous Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) that will strengthen the program even further—including raising the annual gross income threshold to $60,000, crediting spousal educational debt, and increasing eligibility for transfer students. We also continue to offer Public Service Bridge Loans, which were awarded to 32 graduates in 2021. 

Navigating Careers in Both the Public and Private Sectors:

Many of our students are interested in gaining experience, credentials, and expertise in the public and private sectors, and anticipate justice-oriented careers that will bridge both sectors. We are building out an initiative to serve their needs, and worked on the following components this year:

  • Creating pathways into the marketplace that contain both private sector and public sector opportunities, such as the new Columbia postgraduate fellowship launched by BLBG law firm (mentioned above) and the Hueston Hennigan Social Justice Foundation Fellowship launched last spring in partnership with Columbia and several other law schools.
  • Exploring the establishment of a certification program to support students interested in public interest, including those that may intend to transition from the private sector to the public sector. 
  • Having discussions with leading New York City law firms about establishing formal programs to allow Columbia law students to more easily split their 2L summer between private sector firms and public interest organizations (still in progress!)
  • Creating new guidance on opportunities that bridge both sectors.
  • Reaching out to alumni who have made transitions to identify ways we can better support students and graduates making these transitions, beyond existing resources and programs, including through mentorship.

Facts and Figures: 

  • 284 J.D. and LL.M students dedicated their time at the Law School to public interest and pro bono activities, and we are thrilled to honor them this year. These students have embraced one of our core values—that serving the public interest should be part of the professional life of every lawyer—thereby making an outstanding contribution to our community and to the legal profession in which they are about to embark.
  • 322 1L and 51 2L students are working at domestic public interest, government, or judicial internships through our Columbia Summer Funding program. Nineteen additional students (15 1Ls and four 2Ls) are participating in our Human Rights Internship Program, which funds summer work focusing on international human rights advocacy.
  • 283 members of the Class of 2022 exceeded the 40-hour pro bono requirement, with the graduating class completing a total of over 31,000 hours of pro bono service (despite COVID-related challenges.)
  • Students participated in 16 Spring Break Pro Bono Caravans this year (some remotely and some in-person) throughout the U.S. and overseas, on a range of interesting and important legal issues. In addition, for the first time, we had a Winter Break Caravan to a U.S. military base, where students worked to support Afghan refugees.

SJI Team Updates:

  • We were thrilled to welcome several new members to the SJI team—please meet our new team members here.
  • We continue our global outreach efforts this summer, visiting human rights and public interest employers in West Africa, with the goal of identifying new hosts for Columbia human rights interns and postgraduate fellows. We plan to visit Asia early next year for similar purposes.
  • I was honored to be one of the keynote speakers at the 2021 National Association for Law Placement (NALP)/ PSJD Public Service Conference.
  • We are thinking deeply (along with the faculty) about how to best support our students who are troubled by the politicization of the Supreme Court but still eager to pursue careers focused on engaging in impact litigation for social change. I look forward to reporting back to you next year about this.

We look forward to continuing to foster a strong public interest community at Columbia Law School, and we are so grateful for your partnership and support. 


Erica Smock
Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering
Columbia Law School

June 10, 2021

Dear Friends of SJI, 

I write this note with great pride in reflecting on how the Columbia community has navigated the 2020-2021 academic year—one of the most difficult years we can remember. Despite numerous hurdles and personal setbacks, our students, staff, and faculty have never demonstrated more resilience or commitment to make the world—and Columbia Law School—a better place. The SJI team too has been working hard this year to support students, provide new paths in an incredibly difficult job market, build meaningful opportunities for growth and engagement in the pursuit of justice, and learn and grow from unanticipated change. Thank you for taking a few minutes to learn more about what the SJI community has been working on this year. 


  • Like last year, the public interest job market continues to be extra challenging. However, a record number of 3Ls are entering public interest, government or human rights postgraduate positions this year, and many of our J.D. and LL.M. graduates have secured prestigious fellowships—including Columbia Law Fellowships, the Skadden Fellowship, Equal Justice Works Fellowship, and newly launched Social Justice Legal Foundation/Hueston Hennigan Fellowship
  • Through SJI efforts—including intensive advising and support, collaboration with other career offices, a resume collect and interview program for research assistant positions with Columbia Law School professors, and leveraging contacts to create additional employment opportunities—1L students were able to secure employment throughout the spring in a variety of public interest sectors. We were thrilled that 100% of our 1Ls and 2Ls seeking summer work in public interest, government, and human rights sectors were eventually able to obtain positions! We are grateful for the partnership of the other career offices and of the Law School faculty, who worked tirelessly to help place students and/or create new positions to expand options for our students.
A bar graph on the left shows 1L summer unemployment declining between February and May; a pie graph on the right shows the sectors in which students were employed.
  • Our racial justice work continues to be a top priority for the SJI team. I was honored to serve on Dean Lester’s Anti-Racist Steering Committee this year, which launched important new initiatives, including five new $25,000 Racial and Social Justice Fellowships for 2Ls and a new Anti-Racism Grantmaking Program. In addition, we accomplished other important goals and spent time deeply analyzing barriers to public interest careers for students of color and first-generation students. (We are very grateful to the students who shared their lived experiences with us.) Our own SJI Racial Justice Subcommittee has been developing new resources for students and affinity groups (including a new Columbia Law School Funding Resource), sponsoring programs and trainings on racial justice, and elevating the work of our alumni who are leading  anti-racist efforts nationwide. We issued a statement this fall highlighting our priorities in furthering anti-racism on campus. 
  • On June 2, Columbia Law School hosted the annual Law School Access to Justice Conference in partnership with the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, with the important theme of “Fighting Systemic Racism: Law School and Community Partnerships." Over 200 participants attended, and many Columbia faculty members presented workshops or facilitated discussions.
  • We welcomed our second cohort of Public Interest/Public Service (PI/PS) Fellows, doubling the size of the PI/PS Fellows Program (with classes of both 1L and 2L Fellows). Despite COVID restrictions, we were able to create strong community for the fellows and provide innovative programming and events, including Fireside Chats with faculty and alumni, a Theoretical Underpinnings of Movement Lawyering series (featuring practitioners), and discussions on 21st Century Lawyering and Practice Models for Advancing Justice. Throughout the year, PI/PS Fellows organized several student-led discussions on topics including the 2020 election and a reading group on Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis. The PI/PS Fellows also benefited from the guidance and mentorship of over 100 public interest/public service practitioners, alumni, and faculty members this year. The application for the next cohort is now open—we look forward to welcoming the third class of PI/PS Fellows in the fall. 
  • Our Public Interest/Public Service Council, comprised of 85 distinguished alumni leaders at the forefront of public interest and government, continues to grow, and several members of the council are now serving in leadership roles in the Biden Administration.

Facts & Figures: 

  • Two hundred and fifty-three 1L and 55 2L students are working at domestic public interest, government, or judicial internships through our
  • Columbia Summer Funding (CSF) program. (Columbia Law School continued to increase the wage rate for these Law School-supported summer jobs). Twenty-two additional students (19 1Ls and 3 2Ls) are participating (remotely) in our Human Rights Internship Program (HRIP), which funds summer work focusing on international human rights advocacy.
  • Three hundred and sixty-four members of the Class of 2021 exceeded the 40-hour pro bono requirement, with the graduating class completing a total of 35,526 hours of pro bono service (despite challenges presented by COVID-19)!
  • In total, 292 J.D. and LL.M students dedicated their time at the Law School to public interest and pro bono activities. These students have embraced one of our core values—that serving the public interest should be part of the professional life of every lawyer—thereby making an outstanding contribution to our community and to the legal profession in which they’re about to embark.
  • Despite the ban on travel due to COVID, students participated in 17 remote Spring Break Pro Bono Caravans this year throughout the U.S. and overseas, on a range of interesting and important legal issues.

As the need for justice and social change is ever apparent, we are so honored to be able to help shape the next generation of change agents. Thank you for your partnership, and please stay in touch!


Erica Smock
Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering
Columbia Law School

July 17, 2020 

Dear Friends of SJI, 

It’s hard for me to recall a time in my legal career where it has been more clear that a great chasm exists between the world as it is now and the world as it should be. At SJI, our core mission has always been focused on closing this gap, preparing the next generation of change agents to use their law degrees in the pursuit of social justice. This year, with new evidence of the extent of structural racism and societal inequities, our work has never been more important. I hope you’ll take a moment to catch up on what the SJI community has been working on this year. 


  • As COVID-19 forced a shift to remote learning, we connected our students to pro bono projects and leveraged our networks to help create 83 new summer internships and 51 research assistant positions. 
  • We spoke out against racial injustice and began to compile a list of resources to further the cause of anti-racism. In collaboration with BLSA, we’re hosting programs with alumni leaders around the country, amplifying the calls for change inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. 
  • We increased the wage rate for Law School-supported summer jobs and continued to expand the generosity of our Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) through Public Service Bridge Loans, which awarded $10,000 to 30 graduates in 2020, and new benefits for graduates with dependent children. 
  • We welcomed our first cohort of Public Interest/Public Service Fellows and created new advisory groups to provide support and mentorship. This year’s fellows gathered for talks and discussions, visited cultural sites, participated in professional development workshops and even talked about personal and institutional responsibility with former FBI Director James Comey. 
  • Our recent J.D. and LL.M. graduates have secured prestigious fellowships and jobs at a variety of public interest, human rights and government employers throughout the world.
  • We continued our multi-year global outreach efforts, traveling to Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore to meet with international organizations from UN agencies to local NGOs to discuss jobs, fellowships, and internships for our students.

Facts & Figures: 

As I reflect on the year, I am in awe of all that we have accomplished together and look ahead with optimism as we continue to advance the public good and promote justice through the law. We are here for you now, ready to serve as a resource and sounding board to discuss how to make a difference. We wish you a meaningful summer, wherever you may be. Be well and we look forward to connecting soon.


Erica Smock
Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering
Columbia Law School

May 31, 2019

As I near the end of my second year as dean for Social Justice Initiatives (SJI) and Public Service Lawyering, I am thrilled to report that this has been a truly memorable period for public interest and public service initiatives at Columbia Law School! I am very appreciative of Dean Lester’s strong leadership and that of my colleagues in the Law School’s administration as we strengthen the framework of support for students and alumni engaged in public interest and public service work.

Financial Support for Public Interest/Public Service

This fall Columbia Law School announced an investment of an additional $4.5 million to improve financial support for students and alumni who are engaged in public interest and government work, including:

  • A notable increase in Guaranteed Summer Funding (GSF) amounts over the next three years. For 1L students, funding will increase 40 percent; this summer alone, 1Ls will receive an additional $1,100 in base compensation, raising their stipends to $5,600. The 2L stipend will also significantly increase, starting with the base stipend this summer of $7,000. (More about GSF below).
  • Significant changes to our Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), which raise the income threshold and establish a new dependent allowance, thereby strengthening our already nationally renowned LRAP program.
  • Two new public interest tuition scholarships, known as “Greene Public Service Scholarships,” for incoming students.
  • A new Public Service Bridge Loan, established to fund summer expenses associated with bar preparation and cost of living for public interest and public service graduates. It was a big success during its inaugural run last summer.

To provide additional cushion for students with financial hardship, we also established:

  • A fund for 2L students working in public interest or government summer internships who encounter costs that their summer stipends will not cover.
  • A fund for 3Ls who are seeking postgraduate employment in the nonprofit or government sector who need financial help to travel to and from interviews.
  • An expanded fund supporting students who need financial assistance to attend conferences associated with public interest and government careers.

Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program

We are on target to launch our new Public Interest/Public Service (PI/PS) Fellows Program this fall. The application opened in May, and admitted students have expressed excitement about applying for the Program.

Over the past year, we have laid important groundwork. We hired our Assistant Director of Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program, Devi Patel, in December. We worked closely with members of our Student Advisory Group, who have provided invaluable assistance; and we held numerous small student focus groups to gain additional information. We worked with the Law School’s Public Interest/ Public Service Lawyering Committee to get feedback on curricular and structural components; and collaborated with the Human Rights Institute to establish the PI/PS Fellows Program as an umbrella for their existing 1L Advocates Program. In addition, we piloted several new programs with the goal of gaining insight into the kind of activities that will be meaningful to our inaugural Fellows class. These included:

  • Dinners for small groups of students to engage in discussion around different topics with faculty and/or practitioners;
  • A student mentorship program for 1L public interest students, in partnership with Student Public Interest Network (SPIN);
  • Two reading groups, in partnership with Black Law Students Association, National Lawyers Guild, SPIN, and other student groups, featuring Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

We are pleased that dedicated Law School faculty and distinguished alumni have agreed to serve on two advisory groups for the PI/PS Fellows Program: the Faculty Advisory Group and the Advisory Board of practitioners. In addition, the new Columbia Law School Public Interest/Public Service Council (discussed below) will be a valuable resource to the PI/PS Fellows Program.

Public Interest/Public Service Council

We have now established a new Columbia Law School Public Interest/Public Service Council, comprised of senior Law School alumni who are experts and leaders in the public interest and government sectors, both in the U.S. and abroad. The Council will be an inspiration to our students and alumni as they forge career paths. Council members have agreed to make themselves available (via SJI) to students and alumni who wish to speak with them. We plan to welcome the Council members at a reception at the Law School during the 2019-2020 academic year.

Postgraduate and Summer Employment

Our 2019 graduates are heading to an impressive array of public interest and public service positions (many via prestigious fellowships). Graduates will be doing cutting-edge work all over the U.S. and overseas in a variety of fields and sectors. 3Ls have secured spots in federal government Honors Programs, including the Honors Programs of the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Labor, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Federal Trade Commission, and other federal, state, and local agencies. Other 2019 graduates will be providing civil legal services or criminal defense; others will engage in impact litigation on critical matters, including immigration, the environment, domestic violence, family defense, and housing. We again will have graduates going to work abroad with nonprofit organizations, regional tribunals, and international intergovernmental organizations. Click on these links for a list of organizations where J.D. graduates will be working, as well as profiles of some of our J.D. and LL.M. grads who have secured competitive postgraduate fellowships, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Our 1Ls and 2Ls secured summer internships at a wide array of public interest, government, and human rights organizations. 291 1L students and 29 2L students will work at domestic public interest, government, or judicial internships via our GSF program this summer. And 26 1L and 2L students will work abroad via the Human Rights Internship Program (including three students who will work in Japan via the Morrison and Foerster Japan Program). In addition, several students will receive supplemental funding from the John Paul Stevens, Venable, and Catalyst Fellowship Programs.

We continue to engage in outreach to employers both in the U.S. and abroad. Over the past year, SJI staff members visited organizations in many cities in the U.S., as well as in Cambodia, Hong Kong, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda with the goal of strengthening our relationships and learning about employment and internship opportunities for our students and graduates.

Public Interest Honors Dinner

On April 2, 2019, we celebrated 226 Columbia Law School students for their exceptional dedication to public interest or public service law. We also honored 2019 Distinguished Columbia Law School Alum Ramzi Kassem '03, director of Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) and professor of law at the City University of New York. For more information and photos, please visit our webpage.

Pro Bono

Columbia students continue to exceed expectations with regard to pro bono work. This past year, 69% of the Class of 2019 performed more than the required 40 pro bono hours; in total, the Class of 2019 performed 29,758 hours of pro bono service.

This past March, 139 Columbia Law students spent spring break on 23 different Caravans, working on a range of issues, including the death penalty, criminal defense, immigration and detention/asylum, women’s issues, anti-violence work, LGBTQ rights, environmental law, family law, and human rights monitoring all over the United States and abroad. Students welcomed the opportunity to take their legal skills into the community and make a difference in the lives of people they encountered, and our host organizations appreciated the additional capacity our students provided. Click here for “postcards” from several of the Caravans.

Other Public Interest Programs

The Law School’s experiential learning programs are flourishing, with many new and exciting clinics and externships focused on public interest and government advocacy. We welcomed new faculty to campus as well, who bring expertise in fields related to social justice scholarship and practice.

An exciting new Davis Polk Leadership Initiative has been a launchpad for new social impact projectsinnovation grants, and an Experienced Practitioner in Residence Program.

New Resources

SJI has many useful publications, resources, and videos to help students and graduates navigate opportunities at Columbia, learn about practice, secure satisfying positions, or transition to new ones. In addition, our new 1L online portal for resume and cover letter review was a success and we will plan to grow the service next year, along with our expanding Remote Advising Program. For additional information on all of the above, please visit our Job Search Tools webpage.

We here at SJI wish you a wonderful summer—and I invite you to visit us when you are back in the fall or otherwise in town!

Erica Smock

Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering

September 5, 2018

It has been a wonderful first year as the Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering at Columbia Law School.   The strong support and partnerships afforded me by Dean Lester, CLS faculty, administrators, students and graduates were the building blocks for the work that SJI engaged in this year, as we reassessed and rebuilt, forging a new path for this next phase while remaining true to the original mission of the office: to be a public interest bedrock for CLS students interested in engaging in public interest and public service work while at CLS and after graduating.

Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program: Our most exciting news is that we are launching a new Public Interest/Public Service Fellows Program in Fall 2019! We spent the past year building a framework for the program, and listening to key stakeholders about how the program could best serve the CLS community.  We are integrating the Fellows Program into all the existing threads of public interest activity at the law school (including outstanding public interest faculty, classes, experiential learning opportunities, Centers, student groups, journals, moot courts, pro bono projects and so much more!)   Please keep your eyes open for more information in the coming months.

Financing a Public Interest Career: In partnership with Dean Lester, 3L students and other CLS offices, we established a new Public Service Bridge Loan for public interest and government 3Ls for preparing for the bar, which supplements our already-generous Loan Repayment Program (LRAP).  And in response to student feedback, the SJI team built a new initiative on financing public interest careers, in partnership with the Office of Financial Aid, which includes programming on loans and loan repayment programs, as well as new financial resources(including LRAP FAQ’s, sample budgets, salary survey information and tutorials) – all designed to elevate the financial literacy of CLS students and grads and enable them to more easily contemplate how to live comfortably on public interest salaries after graduating.

Pro Bono: In a record year, 73% of the Class of 2018 exceeded Columbia’s 40-hour pro bono requirement; in total, the Class of 2018 performed 31,544 hours of pro bono service!   140 1L, 2L and 3L students also spent spring break working with 23 different caravans in 16 U.S. cities and 4 countries on a myriad of social justice causes. We recognized CLS students’ outstanding commitment to pro bono and social justice at a well-attended Honors Dinner, where we celebrated their contributions and talents. We were joined by public interest alumni who are leaders in social change and public service, and an inspiration for the entire CLS community.

Post-Grad and Summer Employment: We were thrilled that many of our graduating 3Ls secured some of the most prestigious and impactful public interest and public service jobs and fellowships in the country and around the world.  We also launched some new post-grad fellowship opportunities exclusively for Columbia JDs and LLMs this year in state government and at international human rights organizations.  This broadened the already impressive array of post-grad fellowships and public interest jobs that graduating 3Ls and LLMs obtained!  Our 1Ls and 2Ls secured summer internships at a wide array of public interest, government and human rights organizations; indeed 16 students worked overseas via the Human Rights Internship Program, and 290 students did domestic public interest, government or judicial internship work via our Guaranteed Summer Funding (GSF) program.

New Resources: SJI instituted other new initiatives largely in response to student input.  We now have new programming, publications, resources and/or videos devoted to topics like: (1) Exploring Opportunities at CLS To Plan for a Career in Public Interest Law or Public Service; (2) Public Interest/Civil Rights Law Firms; (3) Post-grad Fellowship prep; (4) Deciding Whether to Split Your Summer (with OCS); (5) Transitioning from Private to Public Sector (with OCS) and (5) a revamped Assessing a Law Firm’s Commitment to Pro Bono. And as a supplement to the advising services already offered by our large team of advisors (both on and offsite), we will soon launch a new remote advising service, [email protected], where 1L students can receive quick resume and cover letter advice for public interest positions without scheduling an in-person appointment (more to come!)  

Clerkships: Finally, due to our success at elevating student interest in clerkships, we are now working with Student Affairs Administration to establish a standalone Clerkship office with a larger team.  This will elevate clerkships at CLS and enable students and alums to be better served.

We at SJI are looking forward to another new year! Stop by the 8th Floor of WJW and visit us – we are here to work with you. And I look forward to partnering with you on this journey to serve the CLS community and to pursue social justice more broadly.


Erica Smock
Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering

September 22, 2017

I am so thrilled to be writing as the new Dean for Social Justice Initiatives at Columbia Law School.  This is my third week at CLS, and I’m amazed at the welcome I have received: the excitement of students, faculty and administrators at my arrival, and their appreciation of the SJI office, their commitment to public interest and social justice, and their willingness to partner with me as SJI embarks on its next phase. I feel so fortunate to have such strong support from the community and I am eager to build upon this strong foundation.

Under my leadership, it is my hope that SJI will continue to be the public service bedrock for students and alumni that it has been over the last 20 years. SJI provides information, guidance and support to students and alumni who are interested in incorporating public service into their careers–no matter what form that takes–in a wide range of sectors and through a variety of legal strategies. SJI will continue to strongly serve this base. SJI serves an important ‘force multiplier’ role in shaping our next generation of lawyers, in partnership with other stakeholders like faculty, Centers, and administration at CLS, as well as our graduates. This is a crucial role that we will also continue to play.

In addition, I hope to shape a broad vision for students and alumni of what they can accomplish with their CLS degrees, and to demonstrate the many exciting opportunities for social justice that await them, no matter which path they take to get there.  I hope to establish some new initiatives for SJI through building stronger partnerships with many constituencies, through new programs, and through broadening our vision of what 21st century lawyering looks like, to be inclusive of a myriad of experiences and to include less traditional legal careers or less traditional public interest paths. 

My career working in a variety of sectors and using a wide range of legal tools–in addition to spending 10+ years at SJI–will be instrumental in shaping this vision. Additionally my recent experience leading key components of a successful Supreme Court strategy will also inform my approach, as it demonstrated how different types of lawyers, legal institutions and advocates can work together to achieve social justice in a campaign-style approach. This is an important lesson in building bridges between the public and private sectors, and to encourage recognition of the unique contribution that each lawyer can play. 

I am now engaging on a “listening tour” over the next few weeks, soliciting the insights and ideas of many stakeholders about SJI. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have any ideas, concerns or anything else you would like to share. 

I look forward to partnering with you on this journey to serve the CLS community and to pursue social justice more broadly.


Erica Smock, 

Assistant Dean and Dean for Social Justice Initiatives