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Summer Public Interest Funding Creates Exceptional Opportunities for Law Students

This summer, the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) for the first time coordinated and managed all summer grants for public service work, including PILSO and the Federal Work Study Program.  With this increased coordination, and  intensified fundraising efforts by PILSO and PILC, 40 Pace law students received grants to work in public service — twice the number as last year. 

Students this summer interned at an impressive range of placements, including legal services organizations that provide representation to the poor, district attorneys’ offices, environmental advocacy organizations, and government offices.  These placements included Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, the Environmental Protection Agency, Advocates for Children, Mental Hygiene Legal Services, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office,  the Legal Aid Society, the New York Attorney General’s Office, the Westchester County Board of Legislators,  and the New York State Division of Human Rights.

For Erin M. Derrington, (Class of 2011, joint degree program with Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies), this summer offered dual perspectives on the critical role the law plays in land use and environmental conservation through internships at two environmental stewardship organizations.  A Seattle native, Erin has been involved with environmental conservation efforts in the Pacific Northwest for nearly a decade, and used a PILSO grant this summer to work with Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust (MTS) and Conservation Northwest (CNW), two non-profit groups.

At MTS, Erin primarily worked on a policy document assessing cooperative stewardship approaches for land held in diverse ownership, as well as title and zoning assessments and memos regarding the status of current land use proposals.  Her meetings with land managers and development coordinators with the land trust provided insight to the inner workings of joint stewardship endeavors.  MTS has historically been a land acquisition and conservation organization, but, with 1.5 million acres in their 100 mile byway corridor, the group is now conducting cooperative stewardship feasibility studies.  Erin's final report highlights cooperative frameworks throughout the country, emphasizing common elements that lead to successful management frameworks, and legal mechanisms that have been used to further shared goals. In addition to producing a report that will be presented to national, state, local, and private land managers, this internship provided lasting local connections in the land management field.

Says Erin, “Things I loved about my summer internships are the diversity of the work, the gratification of being involved in cutting edge conservation efforts, working with communities to solve natural resource use disputes, and making connections in the field and location where I hope to practice.”

Meanwhile, back on the East Coast, rising 2L Kate Sullivan experienced for the first time the gratification that comes from providing desperately needed legal services to families.  At Connecticut Legal Services, Kate spent her summer helping low-income and indigent families to secure benefits for their disabled children, who are usually denied benefits, and must appeal the decision. 

When Kate arrived for her summer internship, there was a hearing scheduled on a case of a child with a severe disability.  Her task was to draft the brief to the court arguing for the child to receive benefits.  Her client was a four-year-old boy who suffered both mental and behavioral developmental disabilities and severe medical problems.  The family consisted of a single mother with two boys – Kate’s client and an older brother who was also disabled.  The mother  had quit her full-time job because of the demands of meeting her children’s needs, and was working part time at a hardware store.  The case had taken over two years to finally come to resolution, during which time the family received no benefits.  On the day of the hearing the judge decided the case solely on the basis of Kate’s brief without holding a trial, and awarded the benefits.  In Kate’s words, “when we went outside into the waiting room and told the mother that she had won and would not have to testify, she began to cry.  She grabbed me and hugged me with tears streaming down her face and told me that we had saved her family.  The amount of money she was awarded would not seem to the average person to be a lot – it was around $400 a month, but to this family it was everything -- the difference between eating and not eating.”