By Andrew Cohen
When Adam Sterling ’13 first heard about the Weil Legal Innovators Program, one thought instantly sprang to mind: What a perfect fit for Berkeley Law.
Sterling, executive director of the school’s Berkeley Center for Law and Business, learned about the program from Kyle Krpata, who serves on the center’s advisory board. A partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, Krpata described how the program selects students admitted to leading law schools to work in the public interest sector for a year before starting their legal education.
Berkeley Law recently became the first West Coast law school to take part in the program, joining Harvard and Michigan as new partners this year. Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, New York University, and Penn are the other schools involved.
“It was important to us that we built a program that reflected geographic diversity in our law school partnerships,” Krpata says. “When we seek law school partners, we also look for schools that reflect and align with the culture and values of the program. Berkeley Law’s commitment to public service and social impact made it very clear to us that this would be an invaluable strategic partnership. We are very excited to have the law school on board.”
Participating student fellows receive a $50,000 salary from Weil, as well as medical, vision, and dental benefits. They also get a personal mentor, supportive programming, and a $10,000 scholarship for their first year of law school.
“As the No. 1-ranked public university for business law and No. 3 overall, the intersection of business law and public service is a key focus of Berkeley Law and our center,” Sterling says. “The Weil Legal Innovators Program provides an incredible opportunity to bring our new students to this intersection.”
The program’s nonprofit partners are carefully selected, ranging from the Innocence Project and Human Rights Watch to the National Urban League and Oxfam. Student fellows execute a strategic initiative designed to leverage their business acumen and commitment to public service while amplifying the impact of nonprofits and their vital missions.
A partner in Weil’s Silicon Valley office, Krpata notes that the firm created the program to help expose rising law students to substantive opportunities in the nonprofit space.
“We recognize that lawyers are needed not only in legal services organizations, but also in organizations with broader social missions, from education, to disaster relief, environmental justice, and so much more,” he says.
“In speaking with the program’s team, I was also excited to learn that this year more than a third of the partner positions will be focused on work in and around the racial justice area,” says Kristin Theis-Alvarez, Berkeley Law’s assistant dean of admissions and financial aid.
Her team now informs admitted students that they can apply to the program, and that if accepted their admission will be deferred for one year while they work.
“They get practical experience, mentorship, training, and the ability to learn what the day-to-day of work in the nonprofit sector looks like, plus an introduction to law firms,” Theis-Alvarez says. “I think it’s a win-win-win for all involved, and especially impactful for first generation professional school students.”