Public Service in Challenging Times
John C. Jeffries, Jr. '73
In the aftermath of September 11, Americans felt an uplifting surge of national pride and solidarity. The unbridled search for gain has been tempered by a renewed sense of mutual obligation and support. This national mood has been well reflected in the Law School, which dedicated the 2001-2002 academic year to a celebration of public service.
The University of Virginia School of Law has long been known as a premier institution for preparing lawyers for private practice, a national leader in business and corporate law. Unfortunately, the Law School is not as well known as a center for public service.
In 2001-2002, we set out to change both the reality and the perception of public service at Virginia. We aimed to raise the profile of public service, both within the institution and among prospective law students.
We began with a completely revamped program of loan forgiveness. In a world of rising tuition and large student loans, some graduates may be forced to seek high-paying jobs simply to meet their debt payments. To avoid the coercive effect of debt overhang, the Law School now forgives the student loans of graduates who enter public service and earn less than a specified amount. Importantly, loans are forgiven as they become due, so a graduate who enters public service for one or two or three years receives help for that time, even if he or she later takes a job with a large firm. This reflects the view that public service is valuable and should be encouraged, even when it is not a life-long career choice.
A second major innovation was the creation of the Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Fellowship in Legal Services. Funded jointly by the Powell family and Law School benefactors, the Powell Fellowship funds a two-year position in the provision of legal services to the poor. The first Powell Fellow, Kit Lasher, is profiled elsewhere in this issue.
The student response to these initiatives has been overwhelming. The Class of 2002 was arguably the most public-spirited class ever to graduate from the Law School. They volunteered in large numbers for a variety of public service projects. Indeed, the number of pro bono hours donated by the Class of 2002 more than doubled that of any previous class. Additionally, they had the highest number of judicial clerkships in Law School history. Most impressively, they conceived, organized, and led the third annual Conference on Public Service and the Law, also highlighted in this issue. Distinguished alumni and more than 340 students participated in this event, including more than a hundred from other law schools.
In the pages that follow, you will read about Virginia students, graduates, and faculty who serve the public good. Some put their lives on the line. Others follow their consciences in working to help the disadvantaged. Still others add to the rigors of private employment by donating time and energy to a wide variety of civic, community, and charitable activities.
In all cases, what is striking is their willingness to sacrifice something of themselves to help others. In an age bemoaned by social critics as self-centered and hedonistic, it is refreshing to be able to say, "not here."