Law Magazine Spring 2005 Features
A Sound Investment
Adam Nunziato, Helena Joly and Kelly Behre (all ’05) know a lot about public interest law. Not only have they worked on behalf of indigent clients in the Law School’s legal clinics, but they also have spent countless hours over the last three years developing a report advocating a loan forgiveness program at W&L.
The result of their hard work will benefit graduates this fall. The newly launched Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) is one of the most important initiatives at the Law School to help new graduates balance their financial situation with a career in public interest law.
The project began in the fall of 2002. “Kelly and I were talking late one night about public interest careers, the level of student interest and the problem of money,” remembered Joly. She and other students who want to enter public service law must often decide between a commitment to the legal needs of the community and paying the bills. “So instead of complaining, and only complaining, about the lack of resources, we decided to approach the administration. They were very receptive to the idea, and we decided to go through with the effort of putting together a comprehensive report to make the case for a loan repayment program.”
Public interest law is not an easy career path. About 25 percent of those who join public interest organizations usually leave within two years, and more than 67 percent within five years, for financial reasons. As Nunziato noted, “People who want to work in public law shouldn’t have to be privately wealthy or work a second job to cover the cost of living.” Not surprisingly, public interest organizations have tremendous difficulty recruiting and retaining talented attorneys.
“An effective LRAP is the way for W&L to have a significant impact in social justice,” noted David Partlett, dean of the Law School. Equality is furthered only if lawyers of real accomplishment and dedication represent the weakest in our community.”
With the support and guidance of Career Services and several faculty members, Nunziato, Joly and Behre launched into the initial stages of the project. Research was key, and the three estimate they invested about 100 hours each in gathering data the first year.
So far, the largest support for the W&L LRAP comes from Nancy and Tom Shepherd ’52A, who have generously provided scholarships in the past for minority students entering criminal law. With the assurance that the Law School would not diminish scholarship funds aimed at promoting diversity, the couple agreed to move the monies in the Thomas R. and Nancy H. Shepherd Scholarship endowment to the LRAP, which will be known formally as the Shepherd Loan Repayment Assistance Program.
This past fall, the Law Council voted to support the program through LAA dues, and the Public Interest Law Student Association donated $7,700 it raised through its annual Run For the Law road race. These efforts, along with the funds in the Edmund D. Campbell Public Interest Fund, create an LRAP endowment with approximately $870,000.
But there’s still more to accomplish.“We hope alumni will join us in our goal to channel the best and brightest to public interest employment,”said Partlett.“This law school, particularly through its clinics, has a proud history of inspiring some of its talented graduates to enter public interest law. They deserve all the support we can give them. Our goal is to quickly establish an LRAP endowment of $1 million and grow the program from there.”
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