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Daniella Taylor-Smith, a law student at Howard University, spent her summer combing through pay stubs, job applications and other documents. Following her first year of law school, she worked on a class action against the Federal Aviation Administration for Gebhardt & Associates. Working for a reduced fee, the firm is representing a class of former air traffic controllers who allege that the FAA committed age discrimination when the agency outsourced their jobs. Taylor-Smith is one of a troupe of law students from around the country chosen for a scholarship by Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. The scholarship gives students a chance to do public service law and pro bono work during the summer. “I basically have been interested in public interest work forever,” said Taylor-Smith. But, at least at the beginning of her educational career, she lacked focus. “The public interest professor said you can’t just save the world,” she said. “You have to pick a field.” Inspired by her mother, Taylor-Smith decided that public interest and employment law were the way to go. Her mother emigrated to the United States from Trinidad in 1986 with a degree from London University, one small child with another on the way and the desire to have a top-notch career, the kind of work that can be difficult to find as a woman in her home country. But even in America her mother had problems, and while Taylor-Smith was in high school, her mom filed a discrimination complaint against her employer, a biotech company. “It really inspired me to go to law school and pursue this kind of work,” Taylor-Smith said. Law schools began taking substantial steps to develop pro bono and public interest programs in the early 1990s, according to the Association of American Law Schools. And in 1996, the American Bar Association changed its accreditation standards, encouraging schools to foster pro bono work among the student body. Sonnenschein is in the second year of its scholarship program, and the firm plans to continue the program for the next three years. The firm gives out $4,000 stipends to two first-year law students from each of the top 25 schools in the country. Jerry Wolf, who is a partner at the firm’s Kansas City, Mo., office and one of the originators of the program, said the purpose of the scholarships is more than just introducing students to public service careers. It’s “to engage people in public service, so when they go to their law firms they’ll continue to do things in public service or on a pro bono basis.” Barbara Moulton, the assistant dean of public interest and community service programs at Georgetown University Law Center, thinks public interest and pro bono work can have a “tremendous effect” on students and can “inculcate in them the commitment to provide legal services for the underrepresented.” “I absolutely believe providing students those opportunities has a very substantial effect on who they will be as lawyers,” Moulton said. However, a study published this year by Professor Robert Granfield, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, found that pro bono programs in law schools may not have the lasting effect everyone hopes. According to the study, lawyers who “participated in mandatory law school pro bono programs are more likely to support the value of pro bono in principle.” But he found those same programs had little to do with the amount of actual pro bono work attorneys conducted later in their careers. Attorneys who did not participate in programs in law school performed about the same amount of pro bono work as lawyers who did. Legal services for immigrants Daniel Berlin, a law student at Georgetown who also received a scholarship from Sonnenschein, worked this summer with Ayuda, a legal service provider for immigrants. “I went to law school, basically, because I wanted to contribute more to the immigrant community,” said Berlin, who spent two years in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. But he added, “Being in school, it seems hard or impossible to do this kind of work” when others in his class will come out of law school making $160,000 a year. He said, however, that his experience at Ayuda, which included helping clients with family petitions, naturalization and asylum cases, has “reaffirmed that this is where I want to be.” The public interest coordinator at American University’s Washington College of Law, Charlene Gomes, said that the substantial amount of debt incurred during law school, which can cost upward of $100,000, bars many students from careers in public interest law. “We try to educate our students early on about debt management during law school and after, as well as what it means to graduate from law school when a large part of your peers are going to be making $80,000 to $160,000,” Gomes said. “There is definitely a core group of people who are going to do it no matter what,” she noted. Meghan Moore, another Sonnenschein scholarship recipient, fits the bill on that one. A law student at Georgetown, Moore is simultaneously getting her master’s degree in psychology from Catholic University. This spring, she spent one day a week interning at the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and, thanks to her scholarship, worked full- time at the center during the summer. She researched cases, worked on depositions and helped draft a summary judgment motion and an amicus brief. Moore, whose experience as an emergency medical technician while an undergraduate sparked her interest in mental health law, said she had “the opportunity to work on real cases and work with real clients.” She added,” This will always be something I will carry with me.”

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