Public Interest

Ah, UVA Law School. I’ll be the first to admit that we’re often a little harsh on this particular law school, but that’s only because it’s so damn easy to do. When we write about UVA Law, the jokes virtually write themselves.

Some of the very best scandals around have come from this law school — from alleged sodomizers to transcript thieves to racial raconteurs to Confederate celebrants, we’ve literally seen it all from UVA Law.

But let me tell you, it’s a rare day when we’re able to tell students from this school to pop their collars with pride, and we actually mean it without a hint of sarcasm. Today we’re going to congratulate a student from UVA for an accomplishment that everyone with student loan debt wishes they could achieve.

This young woman appeared on live television and was handed thousands of dollars to pay off her loans, just for being a decent human being. How much was she able to walk away with?

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Later today, Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in President Barack Obama for Obama’s second term as President of the United States. Hopefully they’ll get it right this time.

President Obama, of course, is the first African-American to serve as POTUS. His election and recent reelection show how much progress our nation has made over the years in terms of racial equality and justice.

Much of that progress can be attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the pioneering civil rights leader whose birthday remember today. Dr. King was born on January 15, 1929, and the holiday in his honor is observed on the third Monday of January.

In honor of the holiday, we don’t plan on publishing much (if anything) today. Feel free to scroll back through the archives and read stories you might have missed from last week.

If you’re looking for something to do, you can use today for public service. Look up service projects in your area at MLKDay.gov. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

UPDATE (11:00 AM): As noted in the comments, today’s ceremonial swearing-in will be the second one for President Obama’s second term. He was formally sworn in yesterday “because the official start of his second term landed on Sunday. The Constitution says the president’s term expires on Jan. 20 at noon.”

As law firm associates and partners rejoice over their bonuses and profits, we urge you to keep in mind the importance of giving back this holiday season. The law firm of Skadden Arps certainly does, through its support of the Skadden Fellowships. It’s fitting that word of the new Skadden Fellows always comes out around this time of year.

In case you’re not familiar with it, the Skadden Fellowship program has been described as “a legal Peace Corps.” It was established in 1988, in honor of Skadden’s 40th anniversary as a law firm, and it supports graduating law students committed to public interest work as they embark upon specific projects at sponsoring organizations.

How many fellowships were awarded this year? Which law schools do the fellows come from?

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An awning taken down by Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy hit the legal world hard, as we’ve chronicled in these pages. And many lawyers and legal employers are still feeling its effects — quite literally. If you work at one prominent downtown law firm, for example, we hope you’re wearing thermal underwear.

As we mentioned on Friday, some individuals have been exploiting the Superstorm Sandy crisis to take advantage of others. The Justice Department and the SEC have issued warnings about various “Sandy scams.”

On the opposite end of the decency spectrum, some lawyers and law firms are stepping up to the plate and supporting Hurricane Sandy relief and recovery efforts. Let’s see what they’re doing — and give them some well-deserved kudos for their work….

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One of the ironies in life that I joke about with students is you work four times as hard to get a quarter of the money in public interest.

Alexa Shabecoff, Assistant Dean for Public Service at Harvard Law School, commenting on the limited public interest opportunities available for students in comparison with the school’s enormous Early Interview Program for private firms.

Admit it: when you applied to law school, your admissions essay was probably about your desire to help some poor, disadvantaged group of people. You walked in the door bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to conquer the world one unpaid public interest internship at a time.

If by some chance you weren’t convinced to give up on your dreams of helping the disenfranchised, now that you’ve graduated, you’ve probably realized that this whole “public interest” thing isn’t exactly working out so well for you. After all, servicing six figures of debt is no easy task on a $45K salary, even with school-sponsored loan repayment assistance programs (if your school has one). As it turns out, now you’re one of those poor, disadvantaged people.

This leads to a very relevant question that was recently raised by the National Association for Law Placement: should you even consider pursuing a public interest career path after graduating from law school? Is it really worth it? Let’s take a look at some salary figures and find out….

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In May, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the New York Court of Appeals announced that a new bar admission hurdle would be foisted upon the state’s would-be lawyers in the form of a 50-hour pro bono requirement. Last month, we found out that the new rule was “much better than it could have been,” since it allowed for the mandatory pro bono hours to be completed anywhere and at any time, including during bar admittees’ law school years.

That really doesn’t sound as bad as everyone thought it was going to be. The “justice gap” will be closed, the importance of public interest work will be stressed to new lawyers (even though existing lawyers will continue to maintain only an aspirational call to perform pro bono work), and everyone will hold hands, sing “Kumbaya,” and call it a day. At least that’s how Lippman envisioned it.

But now that everyone’s gotten used to the fact that New York’s pro bono rule is here to stay, some additional analysis has been performed by law schools statewide. Oh, you thought that the state’s “justice gap” was going to just disappear? Yeeeaaahhh, about that….

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* A former Cravath law librarian is fighting his “effective termination” from Southern Illinois University School of Law over alleged threats to bash a colleague in the head with a crowbar. How déclassé! What, was a champagne flute not available? [National Law Journal]

* Is New York’s new mandatory pro bono requirement for admission to the bar too rigid a licensing rule? Compared to what it could have been, no, but obviously others disagree on this point. [Am Law Daily]

* New York Law School’s dean thinks that experience in City Hall gives him an edge. In other news, after being sued over its employment stats, NYLS had the most applicants ever since 2008. Sigh. [New York Law Journal]

* Jamie McCourt doesn’t think it’s very fair that she only got a $131M divorce payout when her ex-husband, Frank McCourt, ended up with $1.7B after he sold the Dodgers. #filthyrichpeopleproblems [Bloomberg]

* “I’m in shock and I’m angry and I’m hurt and I’m flabbergasted and I’m livid.” You’d feel the same if you saw that your engagement photo was being used in an anti-gay marriage mailer. [City Room / New York Times]

* Don’t mind me, I’m just watering my hippies: in a proposed settlement, the University of California is offering $30K to each of the students who were pepper-sprayed by a police officer at UC Davis last year. [CNN]

‘I never look at those rankings.’

* Hey, “regular students” with “regular backgrounds,” you may be able to get a job as a SCOTUS clerk, because Justice Clarence Thomas is the Supreme Court’s honey badger in that he doesn’t give a sh*t about rankings. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

* Because $1.05 bill wasn’t quite enough, Apple is asking for additional damages in its patent war lawsuit against Samsung. Ohh, come on, Judge Koh, it’s just an extra $535 million. Everyone else is doing it, come on. Just give us the money. [Bloomberg]

* The D.C. Circuit suit about White House visitor logs is kind of like a recurring issue we see with law schools, in that transparency here means “[w]e will disclose what records we want you to see.” [National Law Journal]

* Skadden is teaming up with local legal aid groups to start a pro bono initiative in D.C. We hear they’ll be handing out gift cards as a show of appreciation to those who sign up. [Capital Business / Washington Post]

* Sumner Redstone recently donated $18M to BU Law. Will his successor be as charitable? From Columbia Law to Shearman & Sterling to media mogul: meet Philippe Dauman, CEO of Viacom. [New York Times]

* “The employment statistics really are the collective impact of individual choices.” And one of them was attending law school anyway, despite all of the negative media attention they’ve received. [Cincinnati Enquirer]

* Remember the Harvard Law student who ran for Student Government President and pledged to resign after rewriting the organization’s constitution? Well, he graduated, but at least he got a draft in. [Harvard Crimson]

Back in May, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman of the New York Court of Appeals announced that a new bar admission hurdle would be foisted upon would-be lawyers in the state, in the form of a 50-hour pro bono requirement.

It was at that point that people started losing their minds. Some likened the decree to indentured servitude, while others called it “utterly wrongheaded.” Even law schools were pissed off about the requirement, citing worries that the requirement constituted a “significant barrier to entry” to those who attended law school outside of New York State.

Now, just four months later, Judge Lippman has unveiled the details of his pro bono plan — and, to tell you the truth, they’re really not that bad. What’s in store for future New York bar examinees?

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