Students Receive Hands-On Legal Training Through Student Public Interest Fellowship Program
December 2, 2015
The Student Public Interest Law Foundation ("SPILF") is the main public interest law organization at the University of Kentucky College of Law and its mission has remained consistent through the years. SPILF's primary goals are to fund fellowships for law students at public interest/service organizations and sponsor speakers to provide information on public interest topics.
“The summer fellowship program is a very important program for the students. The funding allows students to work during the summer with public interest and public service employers without suffering the financial hardship created when students volunteer without pay,” said Associate Dean for Career Development Susan Steele. The fellowship program funded 33 summer employment opportunities for UK Law students in 2015.
The students involved with SPILF work hard throughout the year to raise money to assist with funding for the summer fellowship program. The students solicit donations for a silent auction in the fall and ask faculty to contribute items or experiences for the Libel Show Auction in the spring. The students also engage in other fund raisers such as s chili cook-off, ping pong tournament, a faculty-student softball game, and bake sales.
Although the students work hard to raise funds, the money raised by the students is not enough to fully fund the summer program so additional funding is needed. “The summer fellowship program is funded through several different sources – the IOLTA fund, the College of Law Golf Tournament, alumni assistance, and fund raising efforts by the Student Public Interest Law Foundation,” Dean Steele explained. “They are all vital components of the program’s success. We greatly appreciate the generosity of the donors and contributors.”
Those who help fund the program understand the value and importance of these opportunities for enhancing law students’ learning while in law school. Students are able to apply what they’ve learned at UK Law to real-life situations.
“Upon my first day, I was given a client to meet, interview, and complete a file. Although intimidating, I appreciated the high expectations put upon me,” Laura Edelman, a third-year law student, reflected. “I enjoyed most how hands on and interactive my experience was at KRM [Kentucky Refugee Ministries]. Every day was something new. The attorneys I worked with did a marvelous job of diversifying my assigned tasks and trusting me with increased responsibilities, whether it be writing asylum briefs, interviewing clients wishing to naturalize, or completing and submitting files to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services so families could reunite.”
Following their summer employment, the students are then able to take their new insight into the legal profession and better understand what they are learning inside the classroom. After working at the Children’s Law Center, Brannah Hamilton, a second-year law student said, “I now pay more attention to the real life applicability and issues that would arise under the issues raised in class.”
Students participating in the program have the opportunity to not only put their legal studies into practice, but also give back to their local community assisting many who would not be able to otherwise afford legal counsel.
“The experience enhanced my classroom learning by helping me to ‘put a face’ to the legal concepts I’d learned. It was a great opportunity to use my skills to actually help someone instead of only thinking about the concepts abstractly or in the confines of a hypothetical,” said Nealy Williams, a second-year law student, who worked at the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic.
The participating local non-profit organizations, also greatly appreciate the extra assistance they receive from the UK Law students. “I worked at a non-profit providing immigration assistance, which employed two full-time attorneys, so every additional set of hands offering to help was greatly appreciated,” stated Ms. Edelman.
The summer fellowships also afford students the opportunity to become familiar with different areas of law. “The program exposes the students to public interest or public service law which helps with the students’ career discernment,” Dean Steele explained. “Students may eventually choose to work in public service post-graduation or their positive summer experiences may make them interested in pro bono cases in the future.”
Students come out of their experiences with more than just insight into the legal field and in what direction they want to take their legal careers, they also walk away with a new outlook.
“The best thing my experience did was put school into perspective,” Ms. Edelman said. “Many of the clients I met were forced out of their home countries because of unsafe circumstances. Many had their families split up. And still, many were trying to adapt to a new culture, learn a new language, and find employment. Meeting with these people reminded me that law school is a welcomed opportunity.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the summer fellowship program, and how you can help fund future public interest opportunities for law students, contact Susan Steele at (859) 257-8320.