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Harvard Law School will participate in the 2021-2022 Weil Legal Innovators Program, which will allow incoming students to defer their first year to complete a paid fellowship with a participating nonprofit, the school announced earlier this month.
Launched in 2019 by the law firm Weil, Gotshal, and Manges, the program aims to help students build professional skills and networks before law school and learn about the intersection of the public and private sectors. Accepted students will work on social and legal initiatives focusing on issues such as racial justice, humanitarian aid, or environmental conservation.
The Law School will now join Columbia Law School, Duke Law, Georgetown Law, Penn Law, and NYU Law as a WLI partner institution. Fellows will receive a $10,000 scholarship to their law school upon matriculation.
“We are thrilled to have Harvard Law School join our second year of the Weil Legal Innovators Program,” Weil Executive Partner Barry Wolf said in a press release. “HLS’s involvement will help expand the program’s reach to even more students who are interested in potential careers that span both the public and private sectors.”
Previous Weil Legal Innovators worked with organizations including Human Rights Watch, Innocence Project, Earthwatch Institute, Ashoka, Aspen Institute, Oxfam, and Tahirih Justice Center. Fellows also receive $50,000 in compensation, full health benefits, an interview for the Weil Summer Associate Program, and mentorship from a Weil, Gotshal, and Manges partner.
Assistant Dean of Admissions Kristi L. Jobson ’06 said in an interview that the WLI program aligns with the Law School’s mission to educate lawyers in a wide range of areas. She also noted the Law School values work experience in the admissions process.
“This was a bit of a no brainer for us,” Jobson said. “This is one of many steps we've taken in the past few years to broaden access to legal education, promote practical experience before matriculating at law school, and support students pursuing public interest work.”
The Law School began to actively prefer work experience in the 2010-2011 admission cycle before launching its Junior Deferral Program in 2014, which allows undergraduate juniors to apply with the condition they defer their admission for two years after graduation, per Jobson. JDP students will be eligible to apply for the WLI program.
“Having students who've had experience — in the private sector, public sector, service work, working internationally — come to Harvard Law School and bring the perspective they've gained from those professional experiences to the classroom and to the case law they're reviewing helps elevate the conversation in the classroom,” Jobson said.
The press release also noted that public service plays a significant role in the Law School curriculum. Law students are also required to perform 50 hours of pro bono work, though on average, members of the Class of 2020 performed more than twelve times that requirement.
The Law School previously established initiatives — such as its Low Income Protection Plan, Summer Public Interest Fund, and Public Interest Interview Fund — to support students interested in pursuing public service careers.
“The school, on the whole, has long supported public interest work,” Jobson said. “We've seen that some of the leading lawyers in the public interest have attended HLS and that's something we're very proud of.”
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