The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law hosted its second annual Justice for All Night, a fundraising banquet for the College’s pro bono and public interest law fellowships, Thursday night at the Tempe Center for the Arts.
“Everyone in law knows the value of public interest fellowships both for the community and for the students,” said College of Law Dean Paul Schiff Berman.
Thursday’s dinner drew about 180 people, including many representatives of the Valley’s legal community. It included a silent auction and a raffle with prizes like spa packages, sports memorabilia and textbooks.
Proceeds from the banquet will fund public interest and pro bono fellowships for ASU law students.
The fellowships provide students the opportunity to work with agencies like Wills for Heroes, which assists police officers and firefighters in drafting wills; the Justice Project, which provides legal assistance to people claiming they were wrongfully convicted; and Community Legal Services, which provides legal aid for underprivileged Arizona residents.
Organizers said they expected to double the $10,000 in earnings the event brought in last year.
“We’re hoping to make this one of the premier legal events in the Phoenix area,” Berman said.
Members of the college’s Pro Bono Board said the event provides crucial fundraising for the program, which has grown quickly in the last few years.
The board helps place students with agencies specializing in providing affordable legal advice for underrepresented segments of the population.
In recent years, the program has grown in popularity, which third-year law student Matthew Moellering attributed to the diverse opportunities offered to students.
“When I was a 1L (first year), you practically had to pull teeth to get people to volunteer,” said Moellering, the board’s treasurer. “Now there are more applications than we know what to do with.”
Pro Bono Board President Sarah Laidlaw said the number of applications for the board’s summer fellowships has jumped from less than five submitted three years ago to about 20 this year.
Kristine Reich, the college’s director of student affairs and public interest, said the program’s expansion not only provides more opportunity for students but helps fill a growing need in the Valley.
Like many services for impoverished segments of the population, the demand for affordable legal help has gone up while the funding for such programs is going down, she said.
“There’s more of a demand, no question, with [the state of] the economy,” Reich said. “This is a critical way of increasing resources to underrepresented members of the community.”
As the program has grown, so has interest in public interest and pro bono work among students, Reich said, which she attributes to the school’s increased focus on community service — starting with the community service required of all first-year students.
“Hopefully what that does is resonate with them that their profession is more than just about them,” Reich said. “There’s a professional responsibility to give back.”
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