After their first year of law school, Public Interest Fellows Cassondra McCormick ’20 (left) and Caitlin Beck ’20 (right) served as summer interns to Hon. Julio M. Fuentes ’75 (center) earning invaluable experience at the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

After their first year of law school, Public Interest Fellows Cassondra McCormick ’20 (left) and Caitlin Beck ’20 (right) served as summer interns to Hon. Julio M. Fuentes ’75 (center) earning invaluable experience at the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

Expanding summer fellowships to ensure success

Summer experience in a law-related position is critical to launching a law student’s legal career.  That first summer job is often a future attorney’s entry into the professional legal community where they can build their skills and their network, putting them in a strong position when they interview in their second and third years.

Make a difference

To be a part of this initiative, please contact Karen Kaczmarski at 716-645-6429 or krkacz@buffalo.edu.

Some of the most impactful summer experiences include prestigious clerkships with members of the judiciary, or opportunities to advocate for justice at non-profit organizations - positions that are typically unpaid.

Since 1993, vigorous fund-raising by the student-run Buffalo Public Interest Law Program, as well as a few alumni-funded fellowships, has helped cover summer living expenses for dozens of students each year allowing them to provide assistance to those in need of legal help, while learning to practice in the process. Yet despite BPILP’s impressive record of success, the need remains great. Nearly 40% of last year’s first-year class would have benefitted from a fellowship, if additional funding had been available.

The solution: Dean Aviva Abramovsky has launched a new law school initiative to secure financial support for that critical first summer. “We are very excited to announce our new 1L Summer Fellowship initiative,” says Dean Abramovsky. “We are committed to raising enough financial support to make sure that every one of our IL students has the ability to pursue opportunities that will give them a jump-start in their legal careers and position them for success.”

Ensuring those opportunities is contingent on external support. The law school is reaching out and asking for relatively modest gifts that will make a significant difference in a student’s professional life.

“A lot of our students are not financially privileged, and sometimes they have to make a really hard choice: Take a great unpaid legal position but have a hard time financially?  Or keep my job as a server or in retail so that I can pay my bills over the summer?” says Karen R. Kaczmarski ’89, vice dean for advancement and director of development.

Summer fellowships make that choice easier. Typically about $3,000, they cover a student’s living expenses while he or she gains essential experience in the legal field.

The summer hiring season begins in February, so the need is immediate as well. The law school is seeking gifts of $3,000 from law firms, corporate sponsors, alumni and friends. For even greater impact, the school welcomes pledges of that amount yearly over three or five years, or even major gifts that would endow a fellowship forever.

Nearly a dozen UB law alumni have already responded to the call. They include Jean Powers ’79, a Dean’s Advisory Council member who learned of the initiative at the group’s October meeting.

Powers – whose own 1L summer was spent caring for her 4-year-old daughter – designated her gift for a student who’ll work at the Volunteer Lawyers Project, in which she has been active. She sees benefits to the idea even beyond the individual student’s development.

“Everybody wins,” Powers says. “Students get an opportunity to work after their first year. The nonprofits get volunteer help they wouldn’t otherwise have, and more of their clients get assistance. And because there’s a distinct correlation between that summer job and getting full-time legal employment after graduation, it has a direct effect on our law school’s rankings, which benefits all of us.”

Rachel Schepart and Christopher Phillips '20

Rachel Schepart of the Center for Elder Law & Justice with Christopher Phillips '20

That pathway to success has held true for second-year student Christopher Phillips, who spent his 1L summer at Western New York’s Center for Elder Law and Justice with BPILP fellowship support. He has committed to a position there this coming summer and hopes to continue his work there next year as a Pro Bono Scholar.

As a summer intern, Phillips drafted legal documents for the organization’s Guardianship Unit, which oversees about 100 Article 81 guardianships for persons who have been deemed incompetent by the courts. The unit includes two attorneys, a paralegal, a social worker and an accountant. “It was super interesting – I worked with a lot of great people at the agency whom I really identified with, and I came to really enjoy the job,” Phillips reports. “Having the fellowship for the summer helped launch all of this. It really eased the financial strain.”