Texas Law’s new program funds summer public interest work

Raiyan Shaik, News Reporter

Texas law students gained experience in public service this summer with the help of Texas Law’s new Summer Public Service Program, which granted 167 students stipends to work in unpaid government and nonprofit fellowships.

“This summer funding is key for law students who have their eyes set on public interest work,” third-year law student Coby Cowan said in an email. “Many public interest legal organizations and public defense programs cannot afford to pay students to work over the summer. Likewise, most students can’t afford to work for free. Summer funding helps bridge the gap and solve both problems at once.”

Public interest law involves “advocating for persons or causes that are not typically served by the private legal sector,” according to Texas Law. This includes “legal service providers, public defender offices, advocacy organizations, and private law firms devoted to serving the underrepresented.” 

Students worked in many organizations this past summer, including Disability Rights Texas, the New York Attorney General’s Office and Colorado State Public Defender. Through summer internships, students learned about legal research, investigation and documents, often working alongside attorneys, second-year law student Jared Schwartz said.

“For students like me who don’t necessarily want to stay in Texas to practice, it’s important to get that experience out of state,” Schwartz said. “(Organizations) are looking for some demonstrated interest in the location. It really helps if you have practice or if you build some connections there, so (SPSP) is helpful for that reason.”

The Texas Law Fellowship student organization previously raised funds for students’ summer work, but this is the first time the law school has formally distributed these funds for public interest work. The William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, a subsector of Texas Law, created SPSP to get involved in the student funding process, said Chris Roberts, executive director of marketing and communications.

“The whole purpose of (the William Wayne Justice Center) is to introduce all students to all of the career opportunities that exist in the public service and public interest space,” Roberts said. “The point of that is to show students that you can have a career in public interest doing lots of different things, and (students) should have an open mind about all the different career opportunities that exist in that area.”

 After receiving a position at a government office, nonprofit or social welfare organization, students applied for SPSP funding over the summer. Students earned $6000 for 10 weeks of work and $3000 for five weeks of work. 

“Our goal as an institution is to give students the tools, networks and resources to realize their professional ambitions,” Roberts said. “When it comes to summer jobs — which are (an) important part of the law school experience — many students want to work in public service. This program helps them achieve that.”

Roberts said that Texas Law and the William Wayne Justice Center are committed to providing stipends for every student who wants to pursue public interest summer work moving forward.

“Public interest is really important work. It’s hard work, and it doesn’t pay nearly enough,” second-year law student Amaris Diaz said. “There are people out there who want to do this work and who are passionate about it. (Giving) students programs like (SPSP) to help reduce (the) financial stress that they’re under helps in ways that aren’t even quantifiable.”