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Penn Law’s fifth annual Public Interest Week to highlight “The Power of Public Interest”

March 07, 2013

A symposium on immigration advocacy and reform featuring a keynote presentation by Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post journalist who revealed his undocumented status in a widely discussed essay in The New York Times Magazine in 2011, will be the capstone event of Penn Law’s fifth annual Public Interest Week programming, March 11-15.

Public Interest Week, organized by the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC), is a full week of activities showcasing public interest practitioners, alumni, and an honorary Fellow in Residence. This year’s theme is “The Power of Public Interest” and the resident fellow is Elisa Massimino, President & CEO of Human Rights First, one of the nation’s leading international human rights advocacy organizations.

A highlight of Penn Law’s annual academic calendar, Public Interest Week reflects the Law School’s historic commitment to instilling a service ethic in its graduates.

“Public service has always been an essential feature of legal education at Penn Law,” said Arlene Rivera Finkelstein, Assistant Dean and Executive Director of TPIC. “Public Interest Week activities highlight our commitment to engaging all students in learning about critical justice issues, while exposing those students who seek public interest careers to the many ways they can be impactful advocates for justice.”

The Law School this year announced a reconfiguration of its loan repayment assistance program – TolLRAP – making it the leading law school in the country in its financial support of graduates pursuing public interest careers. Under the program, Law School graduates engaged in public interest work may have their student loans paid in full by maximizing the Law School’s loan repayment program as well as the federal programs.

In addition to the symposium on immigration reform, which will take place March 15, Public Interest Week activities will feature a March 12 panel discussion commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark right-to-counsel decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. The panel will feature Karen Houppert, author of Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice ­, along with Prof. Malia Brink; Phyllis Subin, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Justice; and Mary Catherine Roper of the PA-ACLU.

Other Public Interest Week programs, many of which are student sponsored, include:

  • A film screening and panel discussion of Broken on All Sides, a documentary focusing on mass incarceration and the intersection of race and poverty within the criminal justice system (March 12).
  • A panel discussion on “Exploring the Working World: How to Begin a Career in Labor and Employment Law” (March 13).
  • A presentation by fellow-in-residence Elisa Massimino (March 13).
  • A panel discussion on “How to Thrive as a Public Interest Lawyer,” featuring alumni practitioners on the rewards and challenges of public sector careers (March 13).
  • A film screening and panel discussion of Pull of Gravity, a documentary about coming home from prison (March 13).


“Repairing the Broken Door: Strategies for Immigration Advocacy and Reform” is the theme of the Sparer Symposium, which will cap off Public Interest Week programming on March 15. The symposium, now in its 32nd year, is organized annually by the Law School’s Toll Public Interest Scholars, students who have received scholarship support and intend to pursue public interest careers.  This year’s symposium will mark 30 years since the death of Edward Sparer, and will include a tribute to him.

In addition to the keynote address by Jose Antonio Vargas, panels and panelists include:

  • “Where Are We Now? The State of Immigration Today” (Lucas Guttentag, Senior Fellow in Residence and Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School, and Founding National Director, ACLU Immigrant Rights Project; Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, National Immigrant Justice Center).
  • “Policing Immigrant Communities: State and Local Immigration Enforcement Trends and Challenges” (Marielena Hincapie, Executive Director, National Immigrant Law Center; Juan Osuna, Director, Executive Office for Immigration Review; Nicholas Perry, Assistant General Counsel for Immigration Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Mark Shurtleff, former Utah Attorney General).
  • “Working Outside the Lines: Immigrants and Exclusion from Labor and Employment Protections” (Ana Avendano, AFL-CIO Assistant to the  President and Director of Immigration and Community Action; Cathleen Caron, Founder and Executive Director, Global Workers Justice Alliance; Arthur Read, General Counsel, Friends of Farmworkers; Lorelei Salas, Legal Director, Make the Road New York).
  • “Strategizing Gender and Sexuality: How Personal Narratives Shape and Are Shaped by the Immigration System” (Alice Miller, Associate Scholar for International Human Rights, Yale Law School; Victoria Neilson, Senior Staff Attorney, Immigration Equality).

The week’s events are part of Penn Law’s year-round commitment to public service engagement. The Law School was among the first in the nation to require completion of 70 hours of public service before graduation. Students, who have initiated more than 25 pro bono projects, routinely surpass that minimum. In 2012, for instance, almost 90% percent of the graduating class exceeded the requirement, collectively performing more than 30,000 hours of service. In recognition of its strong commitment to public service, Penn Law in 2000 was the first school ever to receive the ABA’s Pro Publico Award.