Letter From Dean Smock

Dean Erica Smock

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

Dean Smock’s 2017–2018 Year in Review Letter