A strong foundation
PILF sowed seeds of public interest
When Clinical Professor Lisa Brodoff first joined the School of Law 10 years ago, she was on a committee to review applications for the summer grants from the Public Interest Law Foundation.
"I think we interviewed three people for two positions," said Brodoff, a faculty advisor to PILF.
Last summer PILF awarded 19 grants to students to work at agencies ranging from Team Child to United Nations Inter-Agency on Human Trafficking in Bangkok, Thailand.
The summer grants - PILF's main initiative - have grown enormously as has the work PILF and the law school have done to embrace education for justice. The summer grants work on three levels: they allow students the opportunity to work in public interest law, they provide community organizations with a full-time law student intern for the summer, and they serve the community.
"The program benefits the students in that we're sending them all over the state, the country and the world to get experience to with agencies who do social justice work," Brodoff said. "It benefits the organizations who get all that student energy and knowledge, and it benefits the law school because we're sending our best and brightest out into the legal field."
"The fact that the law school has embraced and internalized so much of PILF’s mission to promote public interest law and social justice is quite a statement about the importance and success of PILF’s work and inspiration over the past 15 years."
This fall, the law school celebrated 15 years of PILF. Formed by Dana Gold '94 and now Dean Kellye Testy, it was at the time the only student organization dedicated to public interest.
"Those students and faculty involved in the early days of PILF are the very people who worked to build the Access to Justice Institute, the Seattle Journal for Social Justice, the Loan Repyament Assistance Program," Dean Kellye Testy said. "PILF laid the foundation for the law school to become a leader in education for justice."
Gold, who was the founding director of the law school's Center on Corporations, Law and Society before moving to Maine earlier this year, is gratified by how far PILF has come.
"When PILF started, there was no other game in town advocating for public interest law in its many forms," she said. "The fact that the law school has embraced and internalized so much of PILF's mission to promote public interest law and social justice is quite a statement about the importance and success of PILF's work and inspiration over the past 15 years."
Current and past grant winners and PILF members filled the second floor gallery for the celebration.
"There was a lot of energy," said current President Amy Pritchard '09. "We really want to reach out to alumni, not just as prospective employers, but also as mentors and to advise us on the work we do."
Statistics show that students who do social justice work have a much higher rate of choosing it as a career. Indeed, many PILF alumni have gone on to careers in public interest, including public defenders, lawyers for nonprofit agencies and others. Just a few examples are Davida Finger '02, the Katrina Clinic Staff Attorney at the Law Clinic at Loyola Law School New Orleans; Twyla Carter '07, an attorney for the Defender Association and Erin Shea '07, an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Columbia Legal Services.
Some of the student leaders have come back to the law school. Diana Singleton '98 is director of the Access to Justice Institute, and Lisa Young '97, is director of the Bar Studies Program. Both were PILF presidents during law school.
Many alumni say PILF provided invaluable experience.
"As a student, I simply would not have been able to afford to work on a series of innovative community renewal projects with the City of Seattle's Office of Economic Development if I had not received the support of a PILF grant," said Brendan Donckers, now an associate with Gendler and Mann in Seattle. "I was able to leverage my experience that summer into a year-long consulting contract with OED, helping small and immigrant businesses understand and comply with local and state regulations."
Carmen Butler '06, said her PILF grant literally changed the direction of her career. She was awarded a grant in 2004, to work with Columbia Legal Services in Olympia, where she helped develop CLS's legislative agenda with respect to utility billing.
"In the course of that internship, I grew interested in energy use and efficiency, and I was surrounded by visionaries who encouraged me to apply my interests for the good of the community at large."
She worked at K&L Gates for two years after law school and continued to develop a practice that focused in part on utilities, energy and renewable energy. Now, she is preparing to move to Sweden to work on legal questions and client relations concerning renewable energy and energy efficiency.
"But for PILF, I might never have had the chance to discover my interest in law as it relates to renewable energy and energy efficiency," she said.
Sabrina Andrus '08, a former president, also benefited from her PILF experience.
"Being involved in PILF really helped in my career because now I'm working at the organization where I was mentored," she said.
She had a summer grant to work at Northwest Justice Project and is now project coordinator for NJP's Committee for Indigent Representation and Civil Legal Equality and a staff attorney for Coordinated Legal Education Advice Referral (CLEAR.) Andrus also was appointed to the Board of Directors for Equal Justice Works.
Agencies benefit as well.
"Working with law students is more than a pleasure, it provides us with a valuable resource of energy, dedication and enthusiasm," said Gillian Dutton of the Refugee and Immigrant Advocacy Project at Northwest Justice Project. "Students have helped us increase our ability to respond to individual cases where there is constantly an overwhelming need for legal help. They have also helped us push forward critical impact projects and systemic advocacy. It is always rewarding to work with students in law school and to work with them again when they are lawyers and colleagues in the cause of justice."
Gold is proud of the difference PILF has made.
"It is so important that the law school encourages all of its graduates to use their talents and privilege to help promote social, economic and environmental justice that are critical to ensuring a thriving world," she said. "Being a lawyer gives us tremendous power to contribute to making the world a more just place, and it is both a privilege and a responsibility of this profession to do just that, in both small and large ways."
Echoed Brodoff: "PILF sowed the seeds, and now PILF alumni are the new leaders in the social justice world."
2009 Auction set for March 7
A large part of PILF's work has become raising the money to fund a growing number of summer grants. PILF's main fund-raiser is it annual auction. Last year's auction raised more than $40,000 to provide grants for students working for the benefit of the community, and organizers hope to exceed that this year. PILF also raised $8,000 through a fall fund drive.
The 16th Annual PILF Auction will take place on Saturday, March 7, 2009, in Campion Ballroom on the Seattle University campus. A champagne preview starts at 5:30 p.m, with general admission check-in starting at 6 p.m.
PILF is accepting item donations for the live and silent auctions. If you would like to contribute, contact Dana Diederich at email@example.com. For more information about table purchases and ticket sales,visit http://students.seattleu.edu/lawclubs/pilf.