A new program at the University of Virginia School of Law will offer additional funding to students working in public service and judicial internships over the summer, with the goal of supporting those located in areas with high costs of living.

The program, PILA+, will be run by the Public Interest Law Association, a UVA Law student organization that raises funds for summer grants and promotes public interest law. Previously, the student-raised funds — nearly $60,000 in a typical year — went to PILA grants, with alumni donations making up the bulk of the grant program. Now the Law School and the Law School Foundation will provide 100% of the funds for summer grants, newly named the UVA Law Public Service Summer Grants, and PILA+ will offer additional money to grant recipients who need more support.

PILA President Elizabeth Harris ’22 said the idea for the new program emerged from knowing the expenses students faced in areas like New York and cities in California — places that also benefit from students’ work on behalf of the indigent.

Elizabeth Harris
Elizabeth Harris

“We want every student to be able to accept their dream summer placement with less financial stress,” Harris said. “Money should not be an obstacle to students hoping to pursue a career in public service, and we are trying to do our part to make that a reality.”

Last summer, 162 law students received a record $750,000 in grants, with first-year students each receiving $4,000 and second-years $7,000. In the past decade, the Law School has more than doubled funding for PILA grants, and guaranteed grants for all students who meet volunteer requirements. The program also expanded in 2019 to fund judicial internships.

“This is another important step in ensuring that students who want to pursue public service careers can achieve their goals,” Dean Risa Goluboff said. “The Law School is now providing 100% of the funding for guaranteed summer public service grants, and leaders of PILA have put together a wonderful plan to assist students who might need additional funding.”

Grant recipients are required to apply and qualify for the funding by volunteering their time for pro bono work and public service hours — 40 hours for first- and second-year students. Grantees must also have secured a public service or judicial internship position by late March.

Harris said eligibility for the PILA+ grants will be based on an application involving five “yes/no factors” that reflect the cost of living at the placement location, a student’s familial support and the student’s other outside financial assistance for the summer.

“Once we know how many students qualify, we plan to take the pot of money raised that is available for distribution and divide it equally among them,” Harris said. “This system can be described as ‘the more you raise, the more you get.’”

PILA plans to return to a live auction, which brings in most of its funds. The group held the event online last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We hope that the UVA Law community will enthusiastically support these activities knowing the funds that are raised will go directly and equitably to UVA Law students who are spending their summers doing public service and who need the additional assistance,” Harris said.

She added that PILA is expanding its activities this year to include hosting both social and career development events. Some of the community-building activities include a trip to Carter Mountain and weekly PILA lunches in Scott Commons. The group also co-hosted a pizza and applications event focused on helping students with public service job applications, and is planning an event on how to engage in public service work at firms.

“We hope this expansion of PILA’s role will serve to help harbor a community of individuals who will be excited to help PILA fundraise directly for members of our law school community,” Harris said.

Assistant Dean for Public Service Annie Kim ’99, who oversees distribution of the Public Service Summer Grants to students as director of the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center, said she was proud of students’ hard work on creating a plan to support their classmates.

“This is going to expand opportunities for grant recipients while also building interest among the entire UVA Law community to support fundraising efforts,” Kim said.

PILA will host an information session on the program Oct. 5 at 3 p.m. in Caplin Pavilion. 

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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