Students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School routinely devote their summers to public interest work, from advocating for human rights in Botswana to defending indigent clients in Philadelphia. But obtaining funding for such work can be a challenge, especially this year as organizations that typically fund summer pro bono and legal services internships face unprecedented budget shortfalls.
To help students bridge the funding gap, Penn Law has substantially expanded its financial support for students who engage in summer public interest work, including government internships, policy advocacy, direct representation of indigent and underserved clients, and work with criminal tribunals and non-governmental organizations around the world. The increased funding means that all Penn Law students who applied for internal funding for public interest internships will receive support from the Law School.
“The Law School understands how vital this funding is, both to the underserved populations who will directly benefit from our students’ work, and to the students themselves, who will have an opportunity to build their legal skills and gain firsthand experience in the public interest sector,” said Penn Law Dean Michael A. Fitts.
The funding builds on several sources of support that the Law School already administers to students pursuing public interest internships. These include Sparer Fellowships, which are administered through Penn Law’s Toll Public Interest Center to support summer work at Pennsylvania public interest organizations; work study funding with Law School support through the Financial Aid office; Equal Justice Foundation grants, which are funded through a student-run organization with support from the Law School and its alumni community; and International Human Rights Fellowships, which the Law School created to support students who devote their summers to promoting and protecting human rights abroad.
Penn Law’s established public interest funding programs are typically available for all students who apply for summer funding. But this year, “the number of students applying for internal support rose dramatically and depleted the available funds, leaving many students who had obtained public interest internships with no source of revenue,” explained Eric McKinley, associate director of public interest and government careers at Penn Law. “The expanded funding allows us to support students who will be doing important work with vital organizations,” including NY Lawyers for the Arts, the National Youth Law Center, Maryland Health Care for All, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and other government and non-profit organizations.
“Public interest internships are a fantastic opportunity to develop practical lawyering skills and experience how rewarding public interest and pro bono work can be,” said Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, director of the Toll Public Interest Center. “Our commitment to summer funding really allows students to take advantage of these highly competitive opportunities by minimizing the financial burden of taking what would otherwise be unpaid jobs.”