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Leading Change, Changing Lives: Penn Law To Celebrate 20 Years of Commitment to Public Interest Law

February 16, 2009

One might say that every week is public interest week at the University Pennsylvania Law School, where students must complete 70 hours of public service in order to graduate.

But the first official “Public Interest Week” will be held March 16-20 to celebrate Penn Law’s two decades of commitment to the community.
Lectures by former New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse, noted death penalty opponent Stephen Bright, and John Jay College President Jeremy Travis, an expert on prisoner re-entry into society, will highlight activities being hosted by the Law School’s Toll Public Interest Center.
“It’s hard to realize that our public-service graduation requirement has been around for 20 years,” said Howard Lesnick, the Jefferson B. Fordham Professor of Law and a founder of the program. Added Dean Michael A. Fitts: “Not only have many law schools followed us by adopting a similar requirement, but this means that Penn Law students have performed about 400,000 hours of public interest work in the last two decades.
“We’ve had the best and the brightest advocating on behalf people with everyday problems,” Fitts added. “Our students have worked on behalf of children and youth, the environment, labor, prisoners and others. Penn Law is unrivaled in its support for public service and public interest law.”
Here are highlights of Public Interest Week:
  • Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, will lecture on the right to counsel at 5 p.m. on March 16, in Silverman Hall 240B. Bright is widely known for his work against the death penalty and his work toward providing the poor with improved access to lawyers and the legal system. “Poor defendants invariably receive inadequate defense assistance” argues Bright. “Rich people get a completely different kind of justice.” In addition to his public lecture, Bright will spend several days visit classes and meeting with students and faculty as this year’s Honorary Fellow, a distinction bestowed by the faculty on a public service leader.
  • Linda Greenhouse, Pulitzer Prize winner and former reporter for the New York Times will examine the role of the courts in the annual Irving R. Segal Lecture, “How Judges Know What They Know.” She will speak at 4:30 p.m. on March 18 in the Levy Conference Center. A long-time reporter covering the U.S. Supreme Court, Greenhouse will discuss sources of judicial knowledge. She now serves as the Knight Distinguished Journalist-in-Residence and Joseph M. Goldstein Senior Fellow at Yale Law School.
  • Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, will discuss prisoner reentry into society as part of his keynote address for the 28th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium at 1:30 p.m. on March 20, in the Levy Conference Center. The Sparer Symposium honors Edward V. Sparer, a former professor at Penn Law School and a maverick in the field of public interest law and policy. This year’s theme is “Current Practices, Alternative Solutions: Crime in the City." Before becoming president at John Jay, Travis led a national research program focused on prisoner reentry into society as a senior fellow affiliated with the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute. Before Travis’ address, the symposium will bring together panels of legal thinkers and practitioners to discuss community-centered solutions, collaborative policing practices and possible sentencing reforms. Among the panelists will be Robin Steinberg, executive director of the Bronx Defenders; Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey; and Penn Law Professors Stephanos Bibas and David Rudovsky.
“In addition to providing our community-leaders with access to the latest thinking on advancing criminal justice, we are delighted to provide our students an opportunity to explore the breadth of public interest law,” said Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, assistant dean and director of the Toll Center. “We hope to celebrate the vibrancy of our public interest community and encourage even more of our students to work for social change.”


Dean Michael Fitts (left) welcomes Stephen Bright to Penn Law.





Former New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse meets with students.


Student organizers of the 2009 Sparer Sympoisum (from left): Marsha Chien, Elena Steiger, Shira Roza, Lindsay Martin and Rebecca Maltzman