The UW 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, UW 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.
Public Service Opportunities at the UW Law School
UW law students have many opportunities to get involved in public service law while they are in school. Programs that facilitate such involvement are listed below:
Clinics: In 2005-06, the school operated nine clinics, allowing 86 students to work with real clients on real cases. Clinic students gain confidence, valuable insight, and hands-on experience, all while providing free legal services to underserved populations. Current clinics include:
- Berman Environmental Law
- Children and Youth Advocacy
- Innocence Project Northwest
- Low Income Taxpayer
- Refugee & Immigration Advocacy
- Technology Law & Public Policy
- Tribal Court Criminal Defense
- Unemployment Compensation Law
Street Law: Street Law is a national program that teaches high school students the fundamentals of our legal system, legal process, and the principles and values that underlie our constitutional democracy. Each year, 24 law students teach more than 300 Seattle-area high school students topics such as the court system, consumer law, criminal law, family law and landlord-tenant law.
“Externships”: Public service “externships,” including the new Olympia Quarter Fellows Program, allow students to gain valuable experience and earn credit toward their J.D. Externships typically last three months and may be based with local, national or international organizations. Examples of participating organizations available upon request.
Other opportunities include the Public Interest Law Association (PILA) student-run organization dedicated to promoting legal work that serves the public, alleviates suffering, and improves the quality of life for individuals; the Native American Law Center, promotes understanding of Native American legal issues through research, scholarship and client representation; the Immigrant Families Advocacy Project (IFAP), which assists immigrant victims of family violence as they petition for permanent residency in the United States, and more.
- Steven Goldsmith