IU Maurer School of Law’s Public Interest Law Foundation supports students through summer stipends and networking opportunities
by Savannah Price, Indiana University Herman B Wells Scholar
In law school, it can be hard to cultivate a sense of community when the workload is heavy for everyone. Despite this, IU Maurer School of Law’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) works hard to bring all members of the Law School community together and support students in as many ways as possible.
During the 2020–21 school year, PILF raised over $40,000 to support students as they complete unpaid public interest summer jobs. All funds were raised online, and outgoing President Maggie Bott recognizes how lucky PILF is to have a supportive community.
“We raised a lot of money, but we also brought together the Maurer community,” said Bott. “We were starved to be with our classmates and eager to connect, so we were able to provide opportunities for connection and fundraising at the same time.”
The fundraiser has benefited a range of PILF members, including Bott, incoming Vice President Ethan Dawson, and outgoing Vice President Erin Deckard. All three would have had to reconsider their summer job offers if they hadn’t received a PILF stipend.
“The summer of 2020, I originally had a paid internship, but that fell through because of the pandemic,” said Deckard. “Because the Law School is well connected, I was able to get a judicial internship and PILF funding for it, which was a lifesaver that summer."
Throughout the school year, PILF raises money by hosting a variety of events. Their most popular one, Singing for Summer Salaries, enters four professors into a contest. The professor raises the most money has to sing a song of their choice in front of a Law Schoo audience (virtual this year) during the final event.
As Singing for Summer Salaries has become more popular, professors have begun to volunteer themselves for entry instead of being encouraged by students. “At its core, it’s a time where professors get to be silly,” said Bott. “It’s been a really positive competition recently; professors and faculty get really into it, and they enter to win.”
Outside of Singing for Summer Salaries, PILF encourages donations through a variety of other events. During the 2020–21 school year, their Halloween Pet Photo Contest in collaboration with the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund raised over $3,000 through some friendly competition.
“We had everyone submit photos of their pets, and we raised money by sharing the link and starting funny Facebook fights with the competing pets,” said Deckard. “How much money we raised with such a silly event is a testament to how we can bring together the Maurer community.”
Another exciting event was new to PILF this past year. In collaboration with the Instagram account Fashion of Maurer (@fashionofmaurer), which anonymously posts photos of the best-dressed members of the Maurer community, PILF hosted an event where faculty and students discussed everything from law to consignment shops.
“We had trivia and challenges, and students talked about what they wear with their summer jobs,” said Bott. “It was a place where we brought people together in the Maurer community to talk about fashion, the best places to thrift professional clothes, and why the way you present yourself as an attorney is important.”
PILF is more than just raising money through fun events, though. Their monthly career panels are popular for networking with and hearing from practicing attorneys from all over the country.
“PILF has opened my mind to how broad public interest is,” said incoming Vice President Ethan Dawson. He helped organize one of his favorite career panels of the year, which featured an attorney from the ACLU. “PILF has helped teach me that law can be such a powerful tool to help others. Being able to listen to such a wide variety of practitioners has made the field seem accessible to everyone who wants to join.”
Outside of concrete events, PILF helps its members understand what their lives could be like if they work in the public interest field. Even students who don’t work in public interest will likely do pro bono work, and PILF offers students the opportunity to figure out what area of public interest they’re passionate about.
“Every attorney in their life is going to end up doing pro bono work or doing some kind of policy advocacy,” said incoming President Hadley Smithhisler. “You have this JD, and you have this ability to fight for important social causes. PILF is a great way to see which kind of work you might want to do in the future. Not a lot of law school is about public interest work, so it’s nice to have this organization that is promoting events about social causes or promoting career panels with lawyers who are doing incredible and impactful things.”
During the summer of 2021, 23 students benefited from the fundraising that PILF did over the course of the year prior. In this upcoming year, the 2021-22 executive board is looking forward to seeing how they can use what they learned during a year full of Zoom to raise more money and help more students than ever.
There’s a place for everyone in the Public Interest Law Foundation, even if you don’t have any interest in the field. “No matter what your specific interest is in law, there’s an area of public interest that will make you passionate,” said Dawson. “We want to plug people into those things that make them passionate and provide them the opportunity to learn as much about that subject as possible.”
Bott sees the Public Interest Law Foundation as a driving force for good in the Bloomington community and beyond. “We empower people to pursue opportunities they might not have been able to pursue that will benefit society,” she said. “That’s the end goal, to empower everyone— even if they aren’t lawyers yet— to do good work.”
Savannah Price is a first-year undergraduate student in Indiana University's Wells Scholars Program. She wrote this article as a guest contributor to the IU Maurer School of Law.