Ryan to address Chicago Campus

Elaine Helm and Elaine Helm

The Law School begins today a weeklong focus on public interest law that will include an address by Gov. George Ryan on Thursday to honor those who have helped clear wrongfully convicted individuals.

The 10th annual Public Interest Law Week, which opens today with an announcement of the school’s new public service strategy, aims to attract students to public interest areas of law, such as human rights defense and criminal justice system reform, organizers said.

Ryan’s keynote speech on the Chicago Campus will recognize the work of students and volunteer lawyers to clear wrongfully convicted men and women, many of whom had been sentenced to death.

“It’s been a lot of work and there are a lot of good speakers, but definitely we’re most excited about Governor Ryan coming,” said Jeffrey Simons, a second-year Law School student and co-coordinator of the week’s events.

Simons is a member of the Public Interest Law Group, a student organization of about 100 Law School students.

Rachel Miller, a second-year Law School student and one of the group’s co-presidents, said the week’s events offer an alternative to the emphasis often placed on preparing students for jobs in large corporate firms.

Students should instead balance corporate values with community service, she said.

“Our whole careers as lawyers will be about maintaining a balance,” Miller said. “Even if you go to work for a corporate law firm, it’s important to balance that with the interests of the community.”

The Law School’s new public interest strategy will encourage students to participate in service activities, such as weeklong service “adventure” projects prior to orientation, as well as a day of service during orientation week and graduation week.

The strategy also includes the creation of a public service organization that will facilitate collaboration between Chicago-area community service groups and law firms.

After Ryan’s speech Thursday, the school will hold an auction to raise funds for Student Funded Public Interest Fellowships. The fellowships compensate students who work in unpaid summer positions at public interest organizations.

The school awarded 16 fellowships in 2002 and gave students $50,000 to pursue part- and full-time public interest work. This year the school has set a goal of giving students $70,000.

Simons said the fellowships provide an incentive for students to participate in public interest projects.

“It’s a great chance to give back to the community,” he said. “We’re really hoping the week raises interest for students.”

Miller said drawing attention to public interest law and making students aware of job opportunities are the most important goals of the week’s events.

“The point is there are people out there who are willing to take the pay cut, because that’s what they want to do,” she said.

The week also will include panel discussions on issues such as the separation of church and state, police misconduct and pro bono work.