The University of Washington School of Law has received a $33.3 million gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for scholarships that will allow hundreds of talented students to pursue careers in public service law.
The William H. Gates Public Service Law Scholarship program — named in honor of UW Regent William H. Gates Sr. and revealed to him as a surprise on his 80th birthday yesterday — will, for the next 80 years, cover the expenses of five new UW law students each year who demonstrate a commitment to careers in public service.
“We’re delighted to honor Bill Senior in this way,” said foundation co-founder Melinda French Gates. “He has been an incredible example to all of us, and we wanted to express our admiration and appreciation with a gift that connects him to future generations of committed, civic-minded students, and the ongoing work of the University of Washington.”
Regent Gates earned his UW bachelor’s degree in 1949 and UW law degree in 1950, before embarking on a half-century of law practice marked by distinguished community service. He retired from his law firm in 1998 and now serves as the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“This program will give our law students an extraordinary opportunity to pursue public service. I am confident that it will become one of the most distinguished scholarships for the study of law,” said Mark Emmert, University of Washington president. “There is simply no better way to honor Bill Gates Sr., a man who has given so much of his life to public service and to the University of Washington in particular.”
The Gates Public Service Law Scholarship program — to be known as the Gates PSL Scholarship — is designed to develop a cadre of highly committed attorneys who will stay engaged in public service.
UW School of Law Dean Joe Knight noted that “law will always be a crucial and indeed essential part of preserving and enhancing a civil society.
“This scholarship program will serve as a reminder to all of our students about the importance of civic engagement and participation,” Knight said. “No one better understands the importance of public responsibility and stewardship than Bill Gates Sr. His life has been a stunning example of what many of us aspire to achieve in our careers.”
According to the UW’s Public Interest Law Association, many of today’s law students will graduate owing in excess of $70,000 in loans. With the median starting public interest salary at $37,500 (compared to $90,000 at private firms), the share of new lawyers entering public interest fields has declined over the last quarter-century, from 5.4 percent to 2.9 percent.
Meanwhile, seven out of 10 public interest organizations have trouble recruiting attorneys, according to the American Bar Association. Yet the need is demonstrated by a recent survey that found more than three-quarters of Washington state’s low-income households experience at least one civil legal problem each year.
To address the problem, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $33.3 million gift will fund the legal education of five new UW law candidates each year for 80 years, including the full cost of tuition, academic supplies and room and board. The program also will provide support for seminars and internships as well as and several opportunities for Gates PSL Scholars and other UW law students to collaborate on public service issues with other law schools in Washington state.
The first five scholarships will be awarded in the UW School of Law class selected in April.
Candidates for the scholarship must demonstrate a commitment to public service law, academic achievement and aptitude, potential for leadership in the public service law arena and financial need (to be used as a tie-breaker among equally qualified candidates).Graduates who abandon the public service field or who earn salaries higher than those prevailing in public service law are expected to repay the scholarships as if they were loans.
Not coincidentally, the 80-year time span of the Gates PSL Scholarship program also describes the age of Bill Gates Sr., who was born in Bremerton on Nov. 30, 1925. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, its co-founders and the Gates family said they wanted to honor “Bill Senior’s” deep commitment to public service by creating a scholarship at his alma mater.
“We knew that the best possible gift for him would be one that supports and continues his long tradition of service by opening the door of opportunity to others,” said Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “This program will have an impact not just on the lives of 400 scholars, but on all of the people they will serve.”
All UW law students are required to perform at least 60 hours of public service legal work in order to graduate. Students may satisfy the requirement through a public service externship, a law school clinic or by participating in the Street Law course. The school operates nine law clinics that enable 86 students to work with actual clients on real cases. These students gain confidence, insight and hands-on experience representing clients from underserved populations in everything from environmental law, to refugee and immigration cases to wrongful criminal convictions.
In 2004-5, UW law students dedicated 46,410 hours to public legal service.
On the lobby wall of the building housing the UW School of Law, which was named for Regent Gates and dedicated in 2003, is the following quotation from him:
“Law is human service of the highest order. Our role as lawyers is to make it possible for people to survive — and thrive — in an extraordinary complex world.”
For more information, contact Paul Moredock, assistant dean of development and external relations at the UW School of Law, at (206) 616-5356 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Lisa Matchette at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at (206) 709-3412 or email@example.com. More information about the foundation is at www.gatesfoundation.org.