Year in Review Letter from Dean Smock

Dean Erica Smock

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

Annual Year in Review Letters

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