Fellowship to Fund Public Service Law
Harvard Law School has unveiled a new public service fellowship that will fund legal work in the public interest sector, an addition to the school’s long list of initiatives that encourage students to engage in public service.
This latest initiative, the Holmes Fellowship, will give approximately 12 students up to $35,000 to pursue public interest law in the year immediately following graduation, but only after students demonstrate that they have been unable to secure funding through other means.
In addition to the new program, students who have committed to five years of public interest work upon graduation already do not have to pay tuition for their third year.
In a time when demand for fellowships has been rapidly growing and funding for public interest work has generally been cut, the Holmes Fellowship will serve as a backstop for students interested in public interest work, said Alexa Shabecoff, the Law School’s assistant dean for public service.
“This is supposed to help those who have exhausted all their options,” Shabecoff said.
The approximately $400,000 program will be funded through contributions from the Law School’s internal budget, according to Shabecoff, even though the School is currently undergoing a period of cost-cutting measures.
“In this difficult economic time, we want to support students in every way that we can and we also want to offer legal assistance to those who are most vulnerable,” Law School Dean Martha Minow said in a statement.
The fellowship might mitigate some of the anxiety that Law School graduates have experienced since large law firms—predominant employers of HLS grads—have been particularly hard hit by a sharp fall in demand for legal work in the financial industry during the recent recession.
Although most Law School graduates have successfully found employment, many students have been slapped with deferred start dates as late as a year after graduation.
As a result, some students have chosen to do public interest work at legal aid agencies and non-profit organizations during their year off.
But this latest program will not fund that work since most deferrals include a stipend, though one far below students’ expected salaries.
Shabecoff emphasized in an interview yesterday that this program is geared towards students interested in public interest work but who have been unable to find other sources of funding.
Sameer S. Birring, a second year student at the Law School, praised the new program and said he was encouraged that even in tough economic times, the Law School has remained committed to funding public interest work.
“[Former Dean] Elena Kagan did a lot of things to support public interest work,” Birring said. “It is good to see the Law School supporting it even when funds are tighter.”
—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at email@example.com.