In addition to overseeing student pro bono projects, directing the Toll Scholars and Toll Fellows programs, and otherwise acting as a hub for public interest at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC) hosts many public interest-oriented events and trainings throughout the year. Primary among them is the Law School’s annual Public Interest Week each fall.
During Public Interest Week, the Law School community is invited to engage with preeminent public interest scholars, lawyers, activists, and community members during a series of daytime and evening events that culminate with Keynote remarks from an Honorary Fellow-in-Residence. Recent Honorary Fellows have included, among others, President of People for the American Way and Former President and CEO of the NAACP Ben Jealous and President and Executive Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Sherrilyn Ifill.
This year’s Honorary Fellow-in-Residence is President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Damon Hewitt L’00. Along with delivering a Keynote Address, wherein he will be joined in conversation by Practice Professor of Law, Director of Civil Practice Clinic & Legislative Clinic Lou Rulli, Hewitt will also meet with several small groups of students throughout the week. During these sessions, students will have the opportunity to ask Hewitt questions pertaining to his work as a civil rights lawyer and the path that led him to his current national leadership position.
Each year, the events of Public Interest Week center around a timely theme. Panelists and guest speakers at this year’s Public Interest Week, “The Widening Divide: Economic Justice in a Post-2020 World,” will discuss the complex roles that lawyers play as society’s economic inequities continue to deepen. Discussions will focus particularly on the cataclysmic economic impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have on individuals and communities already suffering the impacts of systemic inequity and exclusion.
Both TPIC and pro bono project leaders plan Public Interest Week events. The panels and lectures on this year’s agenda will investigate the pandemic’s exacerbation of economic injustice through a wide range of lenses including abortion access, democracy and voting rights, the juvenile legal system, conviction and imprisonment, and housing affordability.
Public Interest Week aligns with the Law School’s firm commitment to the seamless integration of public service with legal education. In addition to offering all members of the Law School community a space to think deeply about the most pressing problems facing contemporary society, the annual event also represents a chance to join together in working toward solutions.