The University of California has launched a new, first-of-its-kind systemwide fellowship program to support UC law students and graduates committed to practicing law in service to the public, UC President Janet Napolitano announced today.
The University of California President’s Public Service Law Fellowships will award $4.5 million annually to promising students at four UC law schools. The funding will make postgraduate work and summer positions more accessible for students who want to pursue public interest legal careers but might otherwise — out of financial need — seek private sector jobs.
“Lawyers who serve the public interest can use the power of the law to effect positive change and strengthen our democracy,” Napolitano said. “For the benefit of California and the nation, we want to foster the public service careers of more UC-educated legal scholars.”
The fellowship program is an ambitious new effort — it will provide for approximately 425 summer fellowships and 60 postgraduate fellowships for students at the law schools at UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Irvine.
“Public service has long been one of our key missions not only here at the law school, but at UCLA as a whole,” said Jennifer L. Mnookin, dean of UCLA School of Law. “These fellowships will enhance our students’ opportunities to pursue public interest work and reduce the financial obstacles many face when they pursue public service. I’m absolutely delighted that this investment will make our already strong public interest program even stronger. ”
UCLA Law, the first public law school in southern California, is home to the innovative David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. The first curricular-based public interest program in the United States, the Epstein Program is dedicated to training students to engage in sophisticated representation of traditionally underrepresented individuals, communities and interests. Today more than 500 program alumni are working around the world in the public, private, non-profit and academic sectors to advance social justice.
UCLA Law has a long-standing tradition of promoting service among its students. Students provide legal assistance to criminal defendants, asylum seekers, tribes, veterans, civil and human rights organizations and environmental justice advocates. For more than 40 years, UCLA Law students have managed El Centro Legal Clinics, one of the largest student-run legal volunteer efforts in the country.
Also committed to partnering with leading social justice organizations throughout the country, UCLA Law was instrumental in helping Gideon’s Promise develop the Law School Partnership Project and its Gideon’s Promise Fellowship program, which places graduates from top law schools in public defender offices in high-need communities throughout the South. UCLA was the first partner law school and has had four students selected to serve as fellows so far.
The post-graduate fellowships provide $45,000 for graduates entering public service, plus an additional $2,500 to help defray bar-related costs. The summer fellowships provide each fellow between $4,000 to $4,500 to subsidize summer public-interest law jobs.
The fellowship funds will be distributed proportionately based on the number of law students enrolled at each law school each year. The law schools will manage the application process and select fellowship recipients.
In addition, the fellowship program provides funding to enable UC law students to participate in the UC Washington Program — a vital UC program that gives students real-world public service experience in the nation’s capital.
The fellowship program will culminate each year in a national conference on public service law that would rotate among each UC law school. The conference will showcase important legal scholarship and practice and contribute to the national conversation on public interest law.