Public Interest with a Personal Touch

Sense of Fun Marks Prizes at Columbia Law School's Annual PILF Auction, Which Raised About $65,000 as Faculty and Students Donate Everything from Steak Dinners to Puppy Play Dates

New York, April 25, 2014Second-year law student Kevin Casey ’15 is being taken to court—and he happily paid $300 for the privilege.

As the winner of the “Dinner and Night Court” package at this year’s festive Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) Bid for Justice Auction, Casey will be treated to dinner for himself and four or five friends at the home of lecturer Paul Shechtman, who will then take the group on a field trip to night court.
“I told myself that one thing I need to do this year is go to court,” said Casey.
Pitching the prize in a lively back-and-forth, the evening’s auctioneers, Professor Robert J. Jackson Jr. and Dean of Students Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin '99, promised that spending time with the professor outside the classroom “will give you stories to last a lifetime.” 
 Dean of Students Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin' 99 and Professor Robert J. Jackson Jr. entertained the crowd as energeticand persuasive auctioneers for the Public Interest Law Foundation's annual Bid for Justice Auction.
Casey was one of hundreds of students, faculty, and alumni who took part in PILF’s 22nd annual auction, a gala affair held April 10 in Roone Arledge Auditorium on the Columbia University campus. Many of this year’s 28 live-auction and 97 silent-auction items were marked by an especially personal touch, and students vied for social time with faculty. Paddles shot up for such packages as “Private Concert” (chamber music performed by Professor Susan P. Sturm ) “The Italian Job” (dinner at Celeste with the promise of Professor Harold S.H. Edgar’s tales of cases about Russian roulette), and “Tapas Time” (tapas dinner with Professor Jamal Greene and lecturer Elora Mukherjee).
 Students and guests peruse the 97 silent-auction and 28 live-auction offerings.
(left to right) Dean for Social Justice Initiatives Ellen P. Chapnick and Professors Jane M. Spinak and Philip M. Genty make their selections. Spinak and Genty donated dinner and margaritas for 10 students to the auction while the staff of SJI offered a game night for up to 8 people
Jessica Lutkenhaus ’14 and Chris Burke ’14 scored “Tapas Time” for $350.
“He’s been hugely influential,” said Lutkenhaus of Greene. “I had him for two classes, and he recommended me for multiple jobs. He is just the smartest, most interesting professor.”
Professor Jane M. Spinak, PILF’s faculty adviser, donated “Margaritas and Mayhem” (dinner and margaritas for 10 students) with Professor Philip M. Genty. “I think it’s great to have a student organization that focuses on supporting and raising money for public-interest work,” said Spinak.
Though the auctioneers sometimes exaggerated the offerings in jest (Jackson promised the winner of “Destination Ouest” would not just share a meal with professor and former SEC commissioner Harvey J. Goldschmid ’65, but would get “dinner and immunity from insider trading”), participants needed little convincing to dig deep for PILF’s biggest yearly fundraiser, which raised about $65,000. The foundation guarantees stipends to Columbia Law School students who do public-interest work during the summer, and gives grants to local organizations that provide legal services to communities in need.
 Students make their bids known.
“It’s my way of giving back,” said Mario Ančić ’13 LL.M. ’15 J.D., a former professional tennis player ranked seventh in the world, who donated a two-hour tennis lesson for up to four people. Ančić stood on stage while bids for his athletic expertise soared to $2,000. He then entered a bidding war with Joseph Golding-Ochsner ’15 for the “Power Lunch at a Steakhouse” prize with Lecturer Jeremy R. Feinberg ’95, special counsel in the Commercial Division of the New York State Unified Court System. The students finally teamed up—“Are you colluding?” Jackson chided from the stage—and won the bid.
Many other students and professors were happy to donate their talents, even if they weren’t as well-known as Ančić’s. Professor Katharina Pistor offered a private concert of 17th-century music in which she will play violin, her husband will play viola, and a friend will play harpsichord. Madiba Dennie ’15 offered the “Crack-aroni and Cheese” prize at the silent auction, promising to bake her Columbia Law School–famous mac-n-cheese. Former professional ballroom dancer Melanie Scheible ’16 offered four hours of dance lessons, and Lily-Diem Phuong Vo ’15 offered hairstyling services. Fiction-writer Tochi Onyebuchi ’15 promised to make the winner of his donation a character in a short story.




 Students at the PILF auction, which raised about $65,000.
 “It’s so nice to see how multitalented everyone is,” said Lane Feler ’15, who co-chaired the auction with Carrie Tirrell ’15. PILF’s president is Georgina Yeomans ’15 and its treasurer is Eric Konopka ’15, who said the items that raised the most were a three-day weekend in the Nantucket home of Professors Elizabeth S. and Robert E. Scott ($3,700), a weekend in the Berkshires home of Professor Peter Strauss ($3,000), and three lunches with Jackson ($6,400 total).
Tirrell said she was glad to see how many organizations and people supported PILF, especially top sponsors BARBRI, a Bar-preparation company, and law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Students and faculty also donated a range of other items, including sports tickets, gift certificates for restaurants and spas, electronics, and even two puppy play dates. 
“Everyone gives what they can,” Tirrell said.