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With the assignment last week of Karen Comstock as Cornell Law School’s first assistant dean for public service law, the upstate New York campus has launched a five-year plan that will offer substantially increased support for students seeking careers as attorneys for government or nonprofit agencies. Perhaps the most significant initiative is a possible consortium of large international social service agencies — including the U.S. branch of CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Habitat for Humanity and Save the Children — sponsored by Cornell Law, and based on campus. “I was eager to signal the importance of this to Cornell,” said Dean Stewart J. Schwab. While the major law firms make annual recruiting trips to the Ithaca campus, he noted, “Many of our students come to us thinking of public interest law, but it’s just not as easy for them to find the jobs.” Schwab also noted the difficulty faced by students who apply for public service jobs, only to wait until graduation — or sometimes months later — for word on acceptance. Private firms generally make solid offers to students during their final years of study. Comstock, who was previously Cornell Law’s assistant dean for career services, considers herself the right party to make things easier. “I’m already known as the person to talk to about public service law, but now [Dean Schwab] has made it official,” said Comstock, who earlier in her career held a non-attorney job with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “This is the job I’ve always wanted.” Comstock and Schwab are in conversation with an important alumnus of Cornell Law, Joseph J. Iarocci, general counsel for Atlanta-based CARE U.S.A., about the idea of a consortium of worldwide social agencies to provide mentoring and networking opportunities for students, as well as additional externships. “We’re not really much beyond the talking stages,” said Iarocci of the consortium, which he said will build on his relationships with large agencies such as his own. “But it shouldn’t be that hard to get it going. “I imagine the network formalizing itself as a consortium, with Cornell as sponsor,” he said. “We could take students out of school for work, and we could secund lawyers from corporate firms.” More immediately, Comstock said she intends to “beef up” existing externship programs with government and social agencies; provide more “proactive” career counseling for public law students; seek endowment status for the Public Interest Low Income Protection Plan, which currently provides up to $4,000 annually toward tuition debt retirement for graduates; and create a “more cohesive” network of alumni working in the public sector, beginning with a meeting of graduate attorneys later this summer in Manhattan, hosted by the New York City Law Department. The chance for students to meet and talk with alumni — and to read narratives of their experiences that Comstock intends to collect and post on the school’s Web site — will be invaluable in fostering public service careers, she said. For example, Iarocci said, students will learn from alumni how to plot out a public service career. “First, you have to become a good lawyer,” said Iarocci, who had a career at Shearman & Sterling before moving on to CARE. “In the nonprofit world, we don’t have the time or resources to hire a lawyer fresh out of school. A student has to look at [gaining a public law career] as a five or 10-year project. “And the student must show somebody like me a certain passion,” he added. “If you’ve been on church trips to developing countries, if you’ve done some work in your community helping the homeless — I need to see that on a r�sum�. And you have to be in the right place at the right time.” To Schwab, all these ideas ultimately mean the dean’s office will have to find more money. “Having a visibly committed person with creative ideas is the first step,” he said, referring to his appointing Comstock to her new duty. But beyond the cost of an additional staff salary, Schwab was unspecific. “I’m in ongoing conversations with alumni and others. I’ve established neither a [budgetary] floor nor a ceiling,” he said. “We don’t have a scripted blueprint of what’s going to happen in the next five years. So I don’t want my lack of imagination to limit us.”

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