Texas law students gained experience in public service this summer with the help of the new Public Service Summer Programwhich gave 167 students stipends to work in unpaid government and nonprofit scholarships.
“Funding this summer is critical for law students who have their eyes set on community service,” Coby Cowan, a third-year law student, said in an email. “Many public interest legal organizations and public advocacy programs cannot afford to pay students to work during the summer. Likewise, most students cannot afford to work for free. Summer funding helps bridge the gap and solve both problems at once.
Public interest law involves “advocating for persons or causes not generally served by the private legal sector,” according to Texas Right. This includes “legal service providers, public defender offices, advocacy organizations, and private law firms dedicated to serving underrepresented people.
The students worked in many organizations this past summer, including Disability Rights in Texasthe New York Attorney General’s Office and Colorado State Public Defender. Through summer internships, students learned about legal research, investigation and documentation, often working alongside attorneys, said second-year law student Jared Schwartz.
“For students like me who don’t necessarily want to stay in Texas to practice, getting that out-of-state experience is important,” Schwartz said. “(Organizations) are looking for a demonstrated interest in the location. It really helps if you have practice or build connections there, so (SPSP) is useful for that reason.
The Texas Law Fellowship student organization has previously raised funds for student summer work, but this is the first time the law school has officially distributed such funds for community service. The William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, a subdivision of Texas Law, created SPSP to engage in the student funding process, said Chris Roberts, executive director of marketing and communications.
“The purpose of the (William Wayne Justice Center) is to introduce all students to all of the career opportunities that exist in public service and the public benefit space,” Roberts said. “The point of this is to show students that you can have a career in the public interest doing a lot of different things, and (students) need to have an open mind about all the different career opportunities that exist in this. domain.”
After securing a position in a government office, nonprofit, or social welfare organization, the students applied for SPSP funding over the summer. Students earned $6,000 for 10 weeks of work and $3,000 for five weeks of work.
“Our goal as an institution is to give students the tools, networks and resources to achieve their career ambitions,” Roberts said. “When it comes to summer jobs — which are (an) important part of the law school experience — many students want to work in the public service. This program helps them do just that.
Roberts said Texas Law and the William Wayne Justice Center are committed to providing stipends to every student who wants to pursue summer public service work in the future.
“Public interest is really important work. It’s hard work, and it doesn’t pay nearly enough,” said Amaris Diaz, a second-year law student. “There are people who want to do this work and are passionate about it. (Giving) students programs like (SPSP) to help reduce (the) financial stress they are under helps in ways that are not even quantifiable.