Put off law school for a year and do some good. That’s the deal a Big Law firm offers.

Say you got into one of the nation’s top law schools. You are psyched. You are ready to get on with it. You have used your LSAT prep books for a roaring beach bonfire and can’t wait to tackle torts.

But wait …

Suppose you had an offer to delay your first year and work for a prominent nonprofit instead. You don’t lose your spot in law school. You’re still in. Nor is it pro bono work. Indeed, a cool $100,000 is invested in your efforts, half of which goes to you as a salary and $10,000 for a law school scholarship. The remainder goes to the nonprofit. You also get medical coverage.

Sound good?

Well, that’s the novel concept that the Big Law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges has come up with. It’s investing $1 million annually to introduce 10 soon-to-be law students into public interest work in a program called the Weil Legal Innovators Program (WLI).

The firm wants to introduce bright students to such work and, hopefully, make a difference. “WLI’s primary objective will be to engage incoming law school students in addressing some of the most pressing social and legal challenges in our communities today,” a statement from the firm said.

Such talent is critical for nonprofits in all areas, the firm notes. 

"Rising lawyers who are socially and community-minded are needed in all sorts of public service organizations ... This is why we are connecting students with organizations across a variety of thematic areas, from policy related organizations, to social justice related organization."

The participating schools are limited. You need to be a student who’s been accepted to Columbia University Law School, Duke University School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, New York University School of Law or University of Pennsylvania Law School.

There is not a slacker school in the bunch, so imagine the quality of the candidates.

Georgetown said it was approached by the firm to take part. "The firm recruits heavily here and is very familiar with Georgetown Law's emphasis on public service, diversity and size of our student body, and, of course, our location here in the nation's capital," said Natalie R. Blazer, director of J.D. Admissions.

The school decided to take part because the program provides two incoming students with the opportunity to gain valuable nonprofit experience prior to beginning law school. It also follows the school's mission, she noted. "Because Georgetown Law is deeply committed to offering students both experiential learning and community service opportunities while in school, their ability to gain real-world experience and give back to their communities in a similar way before they even start classes is a win-win."

The school is not aware of any similar program for prelaw students. Some law firms offer nonprofit fellowships for graduating law school students. 

Blazer expects a good number of students to indeed jump at this chance. "Yes, the opportunity to develop a relationship with both a nonprofit and a private firm before even beginning law school — while getting paid — is going to be a very attractive option to incoming students." 

The firm will begin accepting applications from students this fall.  More than 20 U.S.-based nonprofits will be involved. They will be located in cities in which the firm has offices.

A WLI selection committee will do the vetting. It will be made up of current and retired Weil partners, senior professional staff and clients. 

The first WLI selected students will work from July 2020 to July 2021.

And here’s one more perk: Students get the opportunity to interview for the Weil Summer Associate program as well. It's, um, a pretty good law firm. 

 

 

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