law students participating at last year's BPILP auction.

Buffalo Public Interest Law Program celebrates its 25th auction to support public interest fellowships

Bill Clinton was in the White House and Forrest Gump was in movie theaters when students in the Buffalo Public Interest Law Program ran their first fund-raising auction.

Now BPILP – which provides fellowships for UB School of Law students who take unpaid public-interest law positions in the summers – is marking 25 years of the event with a first-of-its-kind fall auction.

The event, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 24 at the opulent Hotel Henry on Buffalo’s West Side, includes cocktails and hors d’oeuvres along with BPILP’s famous silent auction of merchandise and services. Tickets are available here, along with opportunities to sponsor the event.

Among the items on the auction block are an evening of jazz piano with Professor James Gardner; tickets to an upcoming Buffalo Sabres game; a wine tasting dinner for six hosted by Professor Lucinda Finley; and a spa package and brunch for up to ten people.

Also new this year is the chance to bid online in the run-up to the event. Bidders are invited to go to this site to check out the merchandise. If you can’t be present on Oct. 24, you can note the most you’re willing to bid on any item.

This year’s event will mark the auction’s silver anniversary with a special birthday cake and an invitation to all the past student leaders of BPILP to attend. There will also be a special recognition of Dawn Skopinski, now associate director of the Advocacy Institute, who has provided major administrative and logistical support for the event for two decades.

BPILP awards competitive fellowships to law students who spend their summers working in the public-interest sector. The public-interest and not-for profit agencies where these students work are often understaffed and need the expertise, but can’t pay students. BPILP fellowships “bridge the gap,” enabling students to do this important work while still making ends meet financially. The organization’s current co-presidents are students Courtney Bow ’21 and Claire Esmonde ’21.

This past summer, 42 students received fellowships to work in the public interest. In addition to BPILP fellowships, generous individual donors have funded grants as well.

Garry M. Graber '78, a partner at Hodgson Russ, LLP, is one. He has a special affinity for the Center for Elder Law & Justice and the Erie County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, and his fellowship funds a student’s work at those organizations in alternate summers.

“I believe they’re great organizations that do a lot of good things, making sure that people who otherwise couldn’t gain access and be represented in our legal system have the ability to gain that access,” says Graber, a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council. “I think it’s good for the law school to have this kind of program, so students can get some hands-on experience and represent some worthy people. It helps everyone involved.”

Second-year student Stephanie Verhage spent last summer at the Volunteer Lawyers Project as a Garry Graber Fellow. She worked in the VLP’s Legal Services for Positive Families and Individuals program, which serves people with HIV/AIDS, and helped staff a help desk in Erie County Family Court, doing intake and identifying legal issues for pro se litigants. She’s now co-vice president of BPILP.

The work, she says, “was a different thing every day – wills, health care proxies, divorce, insurance matters, family law, child custody. I worked with a lot of super-enthusiastic, compassionate, really competent people, and I learned a ton.

“I really wanted to do something in the public interest,” Verhage says. “It was the whole reason I went to law school – I wanted to help people.”

“Stephanie was amazing,” says one of her supervisors in the Legal Services for Positive Families and Individuals program, Nikole Wynn ’12. “We never had any worries about handing off a project to her. A lot of our clients come in a little bit hot, but she was able to deal with absolutely every client, empathize with them and allow their voices to be heard.”

And there was even a little recognition at summer’s end: Verhage received VLP’s Law Student Award, recognizing her superior contributions among all the law students who had summer employment with the organization.

Details at a Glance

Thursday, October 24, 2019 from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. at the Hotel Henry Urban Resort & Conference Center, 444 Forest Ave., Buffalo, NY 14213.

Cost: Students $25; All others $40. Includes cocktails & hors d’oeuvres. To purchase tickets, register online.

Can't attend? Check out our online auction and place your bids today, or make a donation in the amount of $25, $250 or even $2500.