By Amy Spooner
April 10, 2015
Beginning in 2016, all first-year students at the University of Michigan Law School can land a great summer internship with less worry about paying the bills. And in true Michigan Law fashion, it’s because the community is taking care of its own.
Gifts from the Himan Brown Charitable Trust and from Lisa and Chris Jeffries, ’74—with a startup gift from the Law School Student Senate (LSSS) and ongoing fundraising through the Law School’s Student Funded Fellowships (SFF) organization—will support 1L summer employment for all students, regardless of job sector, making it the most inclusive program at any top law school. Michigan’s program will issue interest-free, forgivable loans administered by SFF, a Michigan Law student organization that since 1977 has provided some $2.5 million in summer funding support for 1Ls.
“Former and current students are helping current and future students,” says Dean Mark West. “That mutual support represents our Law School at its finest.” He notes the program’s inclusive nature also epitomizes Michigan Law. “Several peer schools offer 1L funding, but eligibility is limited. One of the best things about Michigan Law is the divergent paths our students pursue, so it was important that we make summer funding available to everyone.”
Leaders of the LSSS and SFF also rallied around the idea. The LSSS had accumulated a significant fund that it earmarked for a program to support all students; 1L summer funding proved a perfect choice. “The support from LSSS was crucial financially and also because it showed that the student body bought into the plan,” says Dean West.
Law-related 1L summer employment is essential for exploring possible careers and gaining experience needed to secure good jobs for the 2L summer and beyond—experience that can have a steep price tag. Most 1L jobs pay very little, and large firms rarely employ 1Ls; in addition, opportunities often are in cities with high costs of living. Therefore, many students struggle to balance goals and current means.
Under the new program, all first-year law students will be eligible for summer funding up to $4,000, beginning in the 2015-16 academic year. The funding, disbursed as a loan, will be forgiven for any student whose earnings during both law school summers total less than $18,000. Students who earn $20,000 or more must fully repay the loan, while those earning $18,000-$20,000 will repay on a sliding scale. Student repayments ultimately will make the program self-sustaining.
Meanwhile, SFF fundraising efforts will continue providing a limited number of highly competitive public service grant awards annually. Continued support of SFF initiatives like the spring auction are vital to retaining adequate funding for the program, says SFF co-chair Kate Aufses, a 3L. At the same time, the group is elated to have additional resources available.
“Providing financial assistance to everyone who needs it has always been SFF’s dream, so we are thrilled,” Aufses says. “And maintaining the student-managed, student-funded aspects of SFF highlights the Michigan Law spirit of the new program. We are so grateful to the Law School alumni, donors, and administrators who have made this possible.”
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