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Unwavering Commitment to Service

February 01, 2023

United by an ethos of service, Penn Carey Law’s public interest community cuts across sectors and legal specialties to effect positive change.

The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School cultivates an ethos of service that extends outside our walls as students and alumni make positive changes across the country and around the world. Our graduates demonstrate an unwavering commitment to service through pro bono work, impact litigation, and policy advocacy on today’s most urgent legal issues, from advancing economic justice and combatting wage theft to fighting for families and protecting reproductive rights.

Nurturing a community dedicated to justice requires substantial resources and innovative approaches to legal education. Penn Carey Law’s public interest landscape includes the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC), the Gittis Legal Clinics, the Office of Career Strategy (OCS), externship opportunities, and faculty and student programs. In addition, our exceptional cross-disciplinary coursework incorporates public interest issues, such as environmental justice, implicit bias in AI, and how lawyers can lead social change.

Pro Bono: An Ethos of Service in Practice

The first national law school to implement a pro bono requirement, Penn Carey Law has a long history of teaching students how to incorporate service into legal work. Everyone — all degree programs and areas of interest — participates in our pro bono program. This distinct approach both nurtures a service-oriented community and guides students as they develop their professional values and identities as lawyers.

Emily R. Sutcliffe, Executive Director, Toll Public Interest Center Emily R. Sutcliffe, Executive Director, Toll Public Interest Center“Pro bono work galvanizes students, regardless of which legal sector they will pursue,” Emily R. Sutcliffe, TPIC Executive Director, said. “It deepens their law school experience while, most importantly, providing essential legal services to the individuals and the communities that need them most.”

TPIC oversees all pro bono activities, including 24 student-led projects and numerous external nonprofit and government internships. The impact of these projects is both broad, affecting numerous communities locally and nationally, and deep. From record expungement clinics serving over 100 individuals to thousands of hours of work supporting litigation of the American Civil Liberties Unions (ACLU) of Delaware and Pennsylvania, students achieve positive changes that support families, senior citizens, people with disabilities, incarcerated individuals, Afghan evacuees and immigrants, and many other underserved groups.

Alumni carry these formative experiences with them throughout their careers.

“Even as someone not entering a public interest career, I have found pro bono to be one of the most important aspects of my legal education,” said Audrey Youn L’22, a student leader of the Financial Literacy Project.

Each year, hundreds of Penn Carey Law graduates, like Alina Artunian L’17 and Mira Baylson L’08, accept positions at firms where they dedicate countless hours to pro bono service and impact litigation. At Mayer Brown, Artunian credits her pro bono experience at Penn Carey Law with shaping her current work helping clients navigate the U.S. immigration system. Currently at Cozen O’Connor, Baylson maintains a robust pro bono portfolio that focuses on “helping someone protect themselves against some form of legal invasion that they otherwise would have no recourse against.”

Making the Law Work for Everyone

Preparing students for tomorrow’s complex legal world continues to drive Penn Carey Law’s experiential learning curriculum. Our teaching law firm, the Gittis Legal Clinics, puts students on the frontlines of representing clients who cannot afford or who do not have access to legal services.

Penn Carey Law students render important legal services. Penn Carey Law students render important legal services.

In their legal clinic studies, Penn Carey Law students learn how to make the law work for society’s most vulnerable.

“Students represent clients facing the most precarious situations and advocate for those trying to make transformational changes in their lives,” said Praveen Kosuri, Deputy Dean for Clinical Education, Practice Professor of Law, and Director of the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic.

For many students, the Clinic is their first time working directly with a client. “They build crucial lawyering skills — preparation, resourcefulness, and resilience — while counseling clients about varied and often complex legal needs,” noted Beth Shapiro, Executive Director of the Gittis Legal Clinics.

Eight Gittis clinics collectively represent over 150 clients per year; student work renders tens of thousands of legal services to clients ranging from minority- and women-owned businesses to justice-involved youth to asylum seekers.

“We are extremely proud of our students who work tirelessly each year to help low-income clients save their homes, recover stolen wages, and end predatory and discriminatory practices,” Louis Rulli, Practice Professor of Law and Director of the Civil Practice Clinic, said.

From Investment to Impact

From the dearth of immigration lawyers to the civil justice gap, the need for public interest attorneys is tremendous. Yet there are many barriers to pursuing a public interest career. Pioneering philanthropic support from the Robert and Jane Toll Foundation has substantially increased our community’s capacity to address unmet legal needs and advance justice while making public interest lawyering accessible for more students through tuition scholarships, post-graduate fellowships, loan repayment, and more.

Ty Parks, L'24 Ty Parks, L'24The Foundation’s historic $50 million gift to the Law School dramatically expanded our Toll Public Interest Scholars and Fellows Programs. Toll Scholars, like Ty Parks L’24, arrive at the Law School already committed to public interest. These dedicated advocates receive full-tuition scholarships and engage in substantive programming and rigorous curricula that offer new perspectives on the causes they care about most.

“The Toll Scholarship has afforded me the opportunity to start a career that will uplift Black and brown communities across Philadelphia — without the distraction of debt,” Parks said.

After graduation, the Law School remains committed to providing unmatched support for public interest-focused students. For over 30 years, the Toll Foundation has continuously bolstered Penn Carey Law’s Toll Loan Repayment Assistance Program (TolLRAP), which removes financial barriers to public sector careers, and recent changes to TolLRAP II guidelines will increase benefits and expand eligibility.

In addition, Penn Carey Law’s postgraduate fellowship programs have been highly successful in launching public interest careers. Since 2009, over 60 fellows exiting these programs either secured permanent employment with their host organization or obtained positions in the same field.

Collectively, Penn Carey Law’s efforts have nearly doubled the number of our graduates entering public interest careers in the last six years. We expect this number to double again over the next 10 years as Toll Foundation support continues to launch high-impact careers in the broad field of public interest.

The Law School’s enduring culture of service guides our educational mission and program, instills our graduates with a commitment to serve throughout their careers, and connects our community across all sectors and legal specialties. Penn Carey Law is dedicated to supporting our community in achieving lasting positive change in the world; by expanding access to exceptional legal education and career support, the Law School prepares the next generation of legal professionals who will affect the trajectory of the most urgent legal issues today and in the future.

Learn more about public interest law opportunities and resources at the Law School.