Columbia Law School. Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM

Columbia Law School is kicking off what it’s calling an ambitious $300 million fundraising campaign that it hopes will draw the best students from around the world, attract the highest-caliber faculty and improve its law library.

The five-year plan is being announced tonight at a gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The law school has already received $100 million toward the $300 million goal during its initial fundraising efforts.

Of the total, $100 million will support faculty initiatives while another $100 million will provide scholarships, internships and loan repayment assistance so that students will be able to attend regardless of socioeconomic status and will not choose jobs based on the need to repay their loans.

Another $40 million will be dedicated to the Annual Fund, which allows the school to spend money to enrich students’ education as opportunities arise.

“We’re a school that produces leaders in all facets of society with a vision to make the world a better place,” Dean Gillian Lester said in an interview. “If a faculty member comes forward and says I want to take my students to the Supreme Court or The Hague, I have been able to say yes because of the Annual Fund.”

The law school intends to spend $40 million to renovate and expand the law school’s library. Lester said the library houses one of the world’s finest collections of legal material but it needs to build welcoming spaces where students can read and collaborate.

Lester said she feels a sense of urgency to expand opportunities for students to take part in real-life opportunities such as counseling clients and shaping policy in such areas of the law as immigration, prisoners’ rights, gender and sexuality and the environment. To do this, the school is investing $20 million in what it’s classifying as experiential learning such as expanding opportunities for students to take part in legal clinics, internship and externships.

“Our society is a chaotic place right now,” Lester said. “The rule of law is being called into question. Are our leaders governed by the same kind of rules as everyone else is? We are challenged in terms of national security and the governance of the internet and freedom of speech. These are big explosive challenges and these are all happening now. I just feel at this time in our history I can’t help but feel a sense of urgency.”

The campaign is co-chaired by Alison S. Ressler ’83, a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell; Brad Smith ’84, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer; and Kathy Surace-Smith ’84, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of NanoString Technologies Inc. Media entrepreneur and philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest ’58 serves as honorary co-chair.

Columbia Law graduate Steve Bullock ’94, Montana’s 24th governor, will deliver the keynote address at tonight’s gala. Other speakers will include Lee C. Bollinger ’71, Columbia University’s president,  Michael I. Sovern ’55, the president emeritus of Columbia University and Lester.