PUBLISHED:February 18, 2020

Public Interest Law Foundation feels the love on Valentine’s Day


The 24th annual Public Service Celebration & Auction raised over $35,000 to fund public interest internships and bar grants.

Duke Law Public Service Celebration & Auction Duke Law faculty, students and alumni gathered to celebrate and raise money for the public service community at the 24th annual Celebration & Auction

Duke Law showed its love for public interest work on Valentine’s night, honoring the commitment and service of students and alumni and raising more than $35,000 for the Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) which funds 1L summer internships and bar grants.

“The things that you do for the world go far beyond that first summer,” Dean Kerry Abrams told some 300 attendees at the 24th annual Public Service Celebration & Auction, held at the Washington Duke Inn Friday night.

“So many of you will do extensive pro bono work during law school. So many of you will take clinics and help people in our communities. Many of you will enter public interest careers after law school. Some of you will go to big law firms, like I did, and do extensive pro bono work and that will continue throughout your careers. You will continue to give back.”

With donations still coming in, as of Monday the event has netted more than $35,000 for PILF, said Stella Boswell, assistant dean of public interest and pro bono. In addition to raising money through live and silent auctions, this year the celebration also recognized the public service achievements of the law school community, including alumni Frederick Robinson ’82 T’79 and Bridget K. O’Connor ’03.

Robinson, a partner at Reed Smith in Washington, D.C., and his wife Jill Robinson were named 2020 Public Interest Advocates for “lifting people up and caring for them as a team,” said Melissa Dix ’20. “When they decided to support PILF this past year, it was a statement from a team that truly cares about the mission of PILF and the students it supports.”

Bridget K. O’Connor ’03 was named 2020 Pro Bono Alumna of the year. O’Connor, a partner at Kirkland Ellis, is co-coordinator for pro bono in its Washington, D.C., office and serves on the firm-wide pro bono committee. A Wrongful Convictions Clinic alum, she continues to work on death penalty appeals and clemency petitions.

“She is a model of life-long commitment to pro bono,” said Ellie Studdard ’21. “She demonstrates that pro bono work can be a meaningful part of any law career.”

Speaker Christine Umeh ’17 gave an affecting testimonial about how Duke had enabled her to pursue a career in public interest work. PILF funding made it possible to secure a key internship that connected her with Still She Rises, a new project of the Bronx Defenders that provides criminal and civil legal services to low-income mothers in North Tulsa, Okla.

“Good internships bring good opportunities, but to get the best internships you often have to go to cities that are not affordable to live in,” Umeh said. “As a 2L, I was able to spend a summer in New York as an intern at the Bronx Defenders – only because of the support of PILF.”

Upon graduation, Umeh joined Still She Rises through Duke’s Bridge to Practice program, which paid her salary for three months until the fledgling organization could afford to hire her as a full-time attorney.

“Events like the auction sow the seeds of public interest and public service in this community,” she said. “I am overjoyed by Dean Abrams’s commitment to public interest and public service. And I am overjoyed by the commitment of every single individual in this room because it’s not just about those of us who are working full-time public service jobs. When we start here we go out there and we do important work.”

The live auction emceed by Clinical Professor Casey Thomson featured big-ticket items including four sets of Duke men’s basketball tickets that went for a total of $2,800; a week-long stay on Marco Island that brought in $2,700; two tickets to any Broadway show for $1,450; and a Formula racing experience package with Professor Lawrence Baxter that brought in $750. One bidder paid $1,000 for a paintball outing with Professors Charles, Lemos, Ward, Grunwald, Brewster, and Frakes.

A large array of silent auction items were up for bid, including a signed Duke men’s basketball poster; tickets to DPAC shows and Durham Bulls, Carolina Panthers, and Seattle Mariners games, an Apple Watch, Beats headphones, and an oil painting of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Anastasia Bodea Crisan ’22.

Numerous faculty members donated outings and experiences, including dinner for eight at the home of Dean Abrams and Professor Brandon Garrett; a wine tasting party at Professor Don Beskind’s house; a golf outing with Professors Bryan McGann and Thomas Williams; high tea at the Washington Duke Inn with Professor Marin Levy; dinner at Parizade with Professor Charles Dunlap and his wife Joy; sci fi movie night with Professor Nita Farahany; and a “Dirty Durham” night on the town with Professors Anne Gordon, Thomas Williams, and Kate Evans. Other items on offer included a dedicated carrel at The Michael J. Goodson Law Library, a year’s worth of coffee from Café De Novo, and a Law School parking pass.

All proceeds go to PILF, a nonprofit student organization that funds summer fellowships for every eligible law student working at unpaid public interest jobs and supports graduating students entering public interest careers with grants for bar expenses.

2020 auction sponsors were McDermott Will & Emery; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Steptoe; Sidley Austin; and Fried Frank. The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin and Wyatt & Blake were N.C. Community Sponsors.

Brendan McGuire ’20 and Emily Tribulski ’20 served as auction co-chairs.