Public Interest Law Project at 30
January 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of Lewis & Clark Law School’s Public Interest Law Project (PILP), a student-run organization that rewards and promotes the service of developing public interest attorneys.
The idea of a program to support summer internships in public interest as well as student loan repayment came from Lewis & Clark law students.
Michael Jude Pate ’93, a Superior Court judge in Sitka, Alaska, helped start the now-popular PILP Auction as a student in 1990. The auction provides funds for both summer internships and the Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). (Read about the 2019 PILP Auction.)
“A group of other law students and I were interested in going to law school to do what was right—for public defense, for the environment,” Pate said. “The public interest is important because without it, there’s no soul in law, it’s just a money-making machine. Without it, there’s no vision for the future.”
Though PILP-supported summer internships have launched many successful careers, Pate and other founding students were not content simply to support internships. They were also determined to start a loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) for graduates who pursue careers in public interest law. “At first, it seemed like an insurmountable problem, because we would need to get a serious amount of cash together to fund loan repayment,” Pate said.
Lewis & Clark Distinguished Professor of Law Susan Mandiberg was PILP’s faculty advisor in the 1990s and recalls the challenge of funding the proposed assistance program. Even after PILP had assembled a nationwide committee of legal practitioners dedicated to public interest law, many of whom worked for big firms, there was a dearth of money. It was a one-time gift from an anonymous donor that gave life to the LRAP. Then, the faculty of the 2006–07 school year elected to donate a large amount to the endowment.
“We didn’t want public interest work to be a chain around someone’s neck.
It can be really hard to live on a public interest law job. We hope that people who receive assistance will then be willing to pay it forward,” Mandiberg said. Today, the LRAP is supported through a combination of funds from Lewis & Clark Law School’s operating budget, a student fee, restricted annual gifts, income from the fund established by the 2006–07 faculty, and income from endowed gifts.
By lessening the debt burden of those who are employed in qualifying jobs, the LRAP makes public interest law work a viable option for Lewis & Clark Law School’s recent graduates.
PILP-supported summer internships have launched many successful careers.
- Then: Legal Intern, Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Oregon, 2013
- Now: Immigrants’ Rights Attorney, ACLU of Oregon
“PILP serves a critical role in supporting law students so they can gain experience in the public interest field. Public interest law is the most valuable, meaningful work a law student or lawyer can be involved in. My PILP stipend allowed me the opportunity to work with some of the state’s most skilled public defenders, observe federal criminal trials, and spend months learning and applying federal criminal law and procedure. The skills I developed and connections I made at that time are with me today. In fact, I have reconnected and even worked with both law students and attorneys whom I met during that time.
My position at the ACLU is something of a dream job, and has allowed me to do exactly what I want to do—work to protect and advance the rights of people in our community who are impacted by the criminal justice and immigration systems.”
- Then: Legal Intern, Center for Food Safety, 2007
- Now: Environmental Health Program Director, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity
“It was amazing to get to work at the Center for Food Safety that summer—specifically, to work with attorneys who were doing exactly what I wanted to do. I think especially for those of us who are very mission-focused and want to help save the world, it’s incredible to have the opportunity to go to the organization we’re most inspired by with our own funding for an internship. Later, when I was on the PILP committee that selected who gets the stipends, I loved being able to help people find the opportunities to work with groups that do the very work that inspired them to go to law school.”
- Then: Legal Intern, Office of the Federal Defender for the Middle District of Alabama, 2014
- Now: Attorney, Calcasieu Parish Public Defender’s Office
“When I made the decision to go to law school—after an eight-year career as a journalist—I was almost certain that I wanted to pursue a practice in indigent criminal defense. Being able to get involved with an organization such as PILP as a 1L helped cement that commitment. Whether fundraising in the community or helping to plan campus events, PILP gave me the opportunity to network with other like-minded individuals, professors, and practitioners. As part of the process of asking local businesses to support the organization and donate to the auction, I enjoyed sharing the spirit of public interest law and advocating for students who wanted to pursue careers in the public sector. Without PILP and its stipend program, I probably would not have made the decision to work for the Federal Defender in Alabama—the cost would have been prohibitive.”
- Then: Clerk, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services, 2014
- Now: Attorney, Refugee Services of Texas’ Immigration Program in Austin, Texas
“My PILP award, which I used to clerk at Catholic Charities Immigration Program during my 1L year, undoubtedly helped set me on my current course: doing public interest immigration work. It provided me with the financial support I needed to get good, very hands-on experience and it allowed me to have a glimpse of what practicing in this field would be like. After that, I was hooked. I would recommend that current students and alumni get involved in PILP, because it’s a great way to make connections and find like-minded people in the craziness that is law school. Fundraising is always awkward, but doing it as a team, which PILP does, makes the process a lot more palatable. It allows you to build relationships with your fellow students as well as with the people you ask to support PILP.”
- Then: Law Clerk, Defenders of Wildlife, 2008
- Now: Oceans Program Litigation Director, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity
“PILP is a fantastic program that works because of the dedicated people who are involved. Clerking at Defenders was an amazing experience: I gained hands-on experience litigating cases with very knowledgeable attorneys and got helpful advice regarding how to be an effective public interest attorney. It made me realize what I wanted to do for my career—use the law as a tool to help protect imperiled species and their habitats.”
Where Are They Now?
- While a majority of Lewis & Clark Law School graduates become practicing attorneys, some notable alumni have used the rigorous skills they gained in law school to branch off in other directions. These six alumni remind us that the Lewis & Clark community includes people of many different callings.
- Remember that professor or staff member who was so helpful to you in a moment of need? Or perhaps, someone who pushed you farther than you thought possible? We’ve used the fabulous caricatures by Professor Emeritus Ron Lansing to help your search.
Paul Casey, a longtime supporter of Lewis & Clark Law School, has made it possible for dozens of students to attend law school.