In the PreLaw Magazine’s Fall 2018 edition, University of Miami School of Law is one of only 12 U.S. law schools to receive an A+ rating for “Top Law Schools for Public Interest Law” in the article “The Best Schools for Doing Good.”
One of many student tables at Miami Law's annual Public Interest Fair
Miami Law’s Assistant Dean for Public Interest and Pro Bono, Marni Lennon, welcomes the designation as “a reflection of the values of our school, our students, faculty and alumni, working together to facilitate access to justice from all aspects of law practice and leadership…it is an honor to be recognized as an A+ school.”
History of Public Interest at Miami Law
As founder and director of the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center, Lennon acknowledges that “Miami Law has built an exceptional culture of public interest engagement and social justice training over the years in and out of the classroom.”
HOPE’s genesis was in 1998 with small groups of law students assisting Hurricane Andrew survivors and was formalized as a stand-alone center in 2007.
Over the years HOPE has expanded its advocacy outreach as has the law school at large. “Dean White’s commitment to embracing public interest as a pillar of the law school’s mission has been essential fuel to our vision and growth,” says Lennon.
Expanded Advocacy Curriculum and Opportunities for Students
Nowadays, Miami Law students have an array of public interest opportunities through clinics, advocacy projects, externships and institutional commitment to fellowships locally, nationally and internationally.
One aspect that sets Miami Law apart is faculty, administrators and staff who are encouraged to design new opportunities to address unmet needs. Subsequently, the curriculum has expanded in progressive ways, including the implementation of short courses and joint degrees with focuses on advocacy, and concentrations in social justice and immigration. In 2017 Professor Osamudia James came up with the idea for the course “Race, Class, and Power: A University Course on Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.” Such offerings present interdisciplinary ways for students to augment their lawyering skills and understanding of the complex legal issues in a social justice context.
Fellowships and Scholarships with a Focus on Public Service
For students looking to get involved, HOPE serves as a hub at the law school for those committed to any kind of public interest engagement.
It has funded more than 200 HOPE Fellows who have worked locally (Americans for Immigrant Justice, Miami-Dade Office of the Public Defender, Legal Services of Greater Miami, Legal Aid Society of Miami) and nationally (EPA, SEC, NY Legal Aid, Bay Area Legal Services, Lambda Legal, Children's Law Center) just to name a few.
The prestigious full-tuition scholarship Miami Scholars Public Interest Program currently has 51 scholars on campus and is comprised of individuals who have outstanding academic records and a demonstrated commitment to public interest.
Rising 2Ls can apply for Summer Public Interest Fellowships and participate in work at a local public interest agency, classroom sessions, and a legal research and writing project.
All Miami Law Students Can Participate in Pro Bono
Public service is part of life at Miami Law from the get-go. Part of fall orientation is HOPE Day of Service in which hundreds of law students volunteer at dozens of sites across Miami-Dade County. In fall 2018, more than 375 1Ls and upper-division students participated.
Last year alone students completed 21,800 hours of pro bono community student service - all part of HOPE’s Pro Bono and Community Service Challenge which many Miami Law students pledge to complete each year.
20 Years of Commitment
Recent graduate Kelly Shami, J.D. 16, current Staff Attorney for Justice R. Fred Lewis at the Supreme Court of Florida, recognizes that “HOPE provided me with opportunities to pursue my passion for public interest work from the beginning of my law school career, and helped facilitate my summer internships and helped me determine what kind of lawyer I wanted to be.”
Lennon echoes Margaret Mead, “Our mantra was and continues to be, ‘A small group of committed individuals can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.’ The A+ designation is particularly exciting as it comes just weeks before we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center!”