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.
Dean for Social Justice Initiatives and Public Service Lawyering
See also Fall 2017 Letter from the SJI Dean