NYU Law School’s motto, “a private university in the public service,” isn’t mere talk. With around $5 million dedicated to LRAP each year and summer funding offered to every 1L and 2L working in public interest, the school is committed to supporting its public-service-bound students and alumni. “We really have a strong culture of public service here,” says Deb Ellis, Assistant Dean for Public Service at NYU Law. According to Dean Ellis, NYU Law strives to “help people achieve their public interest dreams whatever they may be, including doing pro bono work while at a law firm.” And for a select group of students who are committed to public interest career paths, NYU Law offers something even better: full tuition through its Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholarships (“Root Program”).
The Root Program—which has grown from 12 students to 20 students since 2004—provides Root Scholars all of the benefits of law school without the expensive price tag. This year, the Root Program received around 250 applicants. Of that pool, 64 applicants have been selected for interviews, which will take place this Saturday. The rigorous selection process is based on three main criteria: 1. “public service commitment,” 2. “potential for leadership,” and 3. “academics above and beyond what’s needed to get into NYU Law School,” says Dean Ellis, who oversees the Root Program. But she urges anyone “interested in the Root Program to always apply.” While the application process is competitive, it is also “very holistic,” says Dean Ellis.
Under the Root Program, the public-interest spectrum is broad, including “policy and legal positions with government (including judicial clerkships), electoral politics, non-profit organizations, academia, social entrepreneurship, community development, and law firms whose primary mission is serving the public interest.” And students have the opportunity to apply for the Root Program’s four specialized scholarships:
1.Filomen M. D’Agostino Scholarship: three scholarships for students focusing on legal issues facing women or children
2.Jacobsen Public Service Scholarship for Women, Children, and Families: one scholarship for a student pursuing public interest work focused on women, children and families
3.Lindemann Family Public Service Scholarship: one scholarship for a student with “a strong commitment to providing civil legal services or criminal defense”
4.Sinsheiner Service Scholarship: one scholarship for a student interested in practicing “direct representation in civil legal matters.”
The Root Program isn’t just about the tuition dollars—Root Scholars benefit from a variety of programs and career resources. During their first year, Root Scholars participate in an overnight orientation, meet fellow Root scholars at an introductory party and receive 2L and 3L mentors. Dean Ellis emphasizes the importance of “putting time into making a community.” Root Program scholars also attend NYU Law’s Leaders in Public Interest Series through which they learn more about public interest work and meet public interest law practitioners. Finally, Root scholars gain real-world public interest experience through two required internships.
For a glimpse at the program’s impact, look no further than Dean Ellis herself, who was a Root Scholar while she was a student at NYU Law. Dean Ellis describes her receipt of the scholarship as “a huge benefit.” And it certainly paid off for the public interest world—Dean Ellis’ impressive public interest career has included the following positions: Legal Director of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey, staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Dean Ellis also served as a law clerk for the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the upcoming days, the Class of 2014 Root Scholars will be selected to continue NYU’s commitment to public service. I look forward to seeing all they accomplish.
NYU Law's Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholarships
The 34th Annual Public Interest Legal Career Fair at NYU Law
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