What is PILP, in a nutshell?

In a nutshell, Public Interest Law Project (PILP) is a student-run organization founded by Lewis & Clark law students in 1990 to help fill the justice gap between those who need attorneys and those who can afford attorneys. PILP helps fill this gap by providing students ways to afford to take on this work both as students and as lawyers. For students, PILP provides stipends (PILP Summer Awards) for otherwise unpaid summer legal work at nonprofit legal advocacy organizations, legal aid clinics, public defender’s offices, and other public interest organizations. For graduates, PILP supports Lewis & Clark’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which helps low-paid public interest attorneys afford to pay their student loans. Both of these programs help make public interest work an economic reality for students and alumni.

Although most law schools in the U.S. now have an on-campus group that promotes public interest work, PILP is proud to be among the first such student groups in the United States. Since 1990, PILP has granted summer awards to 383 students.

What is public interest law?

Public interest law is legal work that is not centered on profit, but on advancing justice, enhancing the public good, and protecting the rights of individuals.

How does PILP spend its funds?

PILP spends its money primarily on stipends (Summer Awards) and secondarily on the Lewis & Clark LRAPThere are no paid PILP employees—PILP is entirely run by student volunteers. Of course, holding an auction does cost money, but overall PILP has a much higher efficiency rate than other similar nonprofits that raise money through annual auction events.

Who is eligible for a summer award?

In order to apply for a PILP summer award, Lewis & Clark 1Ls and 2Ls (first- and second-year law students) must fulfill certain minimum criteria. They must also have a summer internship with a qualifying public interest organization.

How many students get summer awards each year?

In PILP’s recent history, we’ve been able to grant summer awards to about 12-15 students each year. In 2012, a record nineteen students received summer awards. Summer award amounts vary, depending on how much money we’ve raised through our auction and other fundraising efforts. In a typical year, about 3/4  of all students who apply are granted a PILP summer award.

What’s all this about LRAP (Loan Repayment Assistance Program)?

In addition to summer stipends, PILP funds go toward loan repayment assistance for Lewis & Clark graduates who work in public interest careers that pay less than $45,000 (adjusted income) per year. A law school education is very expensive, and most law students have to take out more than $100,000 in loans. Without repayment plans such as LRAP, a low-paying public interest job simply is not a possibility for most lawyers.

Will my donation go to help local public interest organizations?

Most PILP summer award recipients work in Oregon and Pacific Northwest. Since PILP’s founding in 1990, we’ve had 383 PILP summer award recipients. About half of these students worked in Portland organizations, and most worked in organizations within the Pacific Northwest. But our summer award recipients have worked in Salt Lake City, Denver, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, and even as far away as Geneva, Switzerland, and Yap, Micronesia!

In short, PILP helps the Portland community the most, but provides experience and assistance wherever public interest legal work is needed.

What kinds of organizations do PILP stipend recipients work for?

Generally speaking, PILP recipients work for three different kinds of legal organizations: Nonprofits (including environmental and civil rights organizations), legal aid clinics, and public defender’s offices. Over the past five years, some of the organizations PILP summer award recipients have worked for include:

  • Legal Aid Services of Oregon
  • Oregon Law Center
  • Oceana
  • Columbia Riverkeeper
  • The Defender Association
  • Center for Food Safety
  • Youth, Rights, & Justice
  • BLM Action Center – The Wilderness
  • WaterWatch of Oregon
  • Oregon Natural Desert Association
  • Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees
  • Trustees for Alaska
  • Mercy Corps
  • Friends of the Columbia Gorge
  • Disability Rights Oregon
  • In Defense of Animals
  • Appalachian Voices
  • Metropolitan Public Defender 

What kinds of organizations do PILP summer award recipients not work for?

PILP does not grant stipends to students for summer work with corporations, for-profit law firms, military service positions, judicial clerkships, and government agencies that do not provide services to underrepresented clients and causes.

Do the public interest groups that PILP summer award recipients work for have to pay anything to the students or to PILP?

No, host organizations pay nothing.

How does PILP get its funds?

PILP’s biggest fundraiser is the annual PILP auction, held each year in February. It is a gala event, with a silent auction, live auction, and raffle. PILP also holds other annual fundraisers—most recently trivia nights, the annual PILP Pod Race, and in 2020 a Virtual 5K– all successful events and a lot of fun, due to the enthusiastic participation of Lewis & Clark Law School community.

PILP also gets some money through law student annual tuition assessments. PILP does not receive outside funding, except through donations and bidding at its annual auction.

I won’t be in Portland, for the auction, can I still contribute to PILP?

Yes! PILP gratefully accepts donations of auction items and cash year-round. To donate money online, click here, or you can send a check to: Public Interest Law Project, Lewis & Clark Law School, 10101 S. Terwilliger Boulevard, Portland, Oregon 97219.  For auction item donations, an online donation form is available here.

For more information, please email pilp@lclark.edu or call our office at 503-768-6782.

I will be in Portland, and I’d love to attend your auction. How do I do that?

This year the auction will be held on Saturday, February 26th, 2022. The theme is Starry Night! The auction will be in-person. We are requiring every attendee be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination, as well as adding by all state, local, and school mandates. We want to have a fun but safe auction!

I’d like to donate an item for your auction. What do I get in return?

PILP donors get publicity through our auction catalog, at the auction itself, and on our auction website. PILP volunteers will write a description of your product, to go alongside your business name. Some donors will also be highlighted on our social media pages. The PILP auction historically has drawn over 200 attendees, and the auction program and our website are viewed by many members of the legal community in Oregon and across the globe. PILP supporters will know that your business shares their passion for helping the community.

PILP is a part of Lewis & Clark Law School, a 501(c)(3) organization. All donations of cash and auction items are tax-deductible. Our tax I.D. number is 93-0386858.

Donors also receive the deep-felt gratitude of PILP’s board, volunteers, and summer award recipients, along with the knowledge that their gift has helped make legal assistance available to a population or cause that otherwise would not be able to afford it. We could not do our work without our fantastic donors!

Is Lewis & Clark Law School really good at public interest law or something?

Absolutely! Lewis & Clark Law School graduates pursue public interest and public service positions at a rate far exceeding the national average for law schools. PILP is pleased to help Lewis & Clark maintain its position among leading public interest law schools and proud of all our talented scholars who reach out to the community through pro bono and volunteer hours.