The University of California has launched a new, first-of-its-kind systemwide fellowship program to support UC law students and graduates committed to practicing law in service to the public, UC President Janet Napolitano announced last week.
The University of California President’s Public Service Law Fellowships will award $4.5 million annually to promising students at UC’s four law schools. The funding will make postgraduate work and summer positions more accessible for students who want to pursue public interest legal careers but might otherwise—out of financial need—seek private sector jobs.
“Lawyers who serve the public interest can use the power of the law to effect positive change and strengthen our democracy,” Napolitano said. “For the benefit of California and the nation, we want to foster the public service careers of more UC-educated legal scholars.”
The fellowship program is an ambitious new effort—it will provide for approximately 425 summer fellowships and 60 postgraduate fellowships for students at the law schools at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Irvine.
The postgraduate fellowships provide $45,000 for graduates entering public service, plus an additional $2,500 to help defray bar-related costs. The summer fellowships provide each fellow between $4,000 to $4,500 to subsidize summer public interest law jobs.
The funds will be distributed proportionately based on the number of law students enrolled at each law school each year. The law schools will manage the application process and select fellowship recipients.
In addition, the fellowship program provides funding to enable UC law students to participate in the UC Washington Program—a vital UC program that gives students real-world public service experience in the nation’s capital.
The fellowship program will culminate each year in a national conference on public service law that would rotate among each of the UC law schools. The conference will showcase important legal scholarship and practice and contribute to the national conversation on public interest law.
UC’s four top-ranked law schools have long demonstrated a strong commitment to public interest law. The deans of each UC law school welcomed the infusion of major financial support for students pursuing public service careers.
“Many students come to Berkeley Law hungry for public service experience, or they find a passion for it once they are here,” said Melissa Murray, interim dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law. “We are grateful for the Office of the President’s help in creating pathways for students who want to explore these types of careers.”
Berkeley Law’s graduates are pursuing public interest work in greater numbers than ever before. In the last 15 years, the percentage of young alumni working in these areas has more than doubled. For the class of 2014 alone, more than 21 percent of graduates started their careers in public interest or public service—higher than all but one other Top 10 law school.
Berkeley Law’s existing summer fellowships—for students working in unpaid internships in public interest, nonprofit or government sector law—has soared from 41 participants in 2004 to 209 last year, a more than four-fold increase. The school’s one-year fellowships—for new graduates in legal apprenticeships—are also in high demand.
The University of California’s new systemwide fellowships provide a sustained source of funds for these public interest programs, opening up possibilities for students and graduates alike. Along with Berkeley Law’s courses, externships, field placements, and legal clinics——the law school is an ideal match for students who want to serve the public good.
For more information about Berkeley Law’s public interest programs, go here.