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Public interest law scholar Jana Rumminger, L'04, completed human rights co-ops in South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Great Britain. In London (right), Rumminger provided research assistance to a team working on the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

Scholar Program Advances Law School's Public Interest Mission

Patricio Rossi, L'03, the son of Peruvian immigrants, works as a housing attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services in Lynn, Massachusetts, where he helps low-income clients fight unlawful evictions and keep a roof over their heads.

"Northeastern gives clear support to its values. By reducing our debt, PILS helps us work in public interest law without worrying how we'll make ends meet."

Rossi credits Northeastern's Public Interest Law Scholars (PILS) program with helping him pursue this career. PILS supports a select group of law students who are committed to practicing public interest law by covering three-quarters of their tuition.

"My loan burden is about half that of my classmates," notes Rossi. "My wife works with the homeless in Boston, and we have a six-month-old daughter. I don't know if I'd be able to do this without the assistance from PILS."

Northeastern's School of Law is nationally recognized for its commitment to public interest law; its graduates pursue careers in this field at five times the national average. That's an impressive number, considering the American Bar Association reports the typical law student amasses $80,000 in debt, and starting salaries for public interest lawyers hover around $30,000.

Launched in 1999, the PILS program aims to attract talented students with a passion for using the law to promote the public good, support them financially, and demonstrate the law school's commitment to social justice.

Through the program, notes Rossi, "Northeastern gives clear support to its values. By reducing our debt, PILS helps us work in public interest law without worrying how we'll make ends meet."

To date, twenty-three women and men have benefited from the prestigious program. They have focused their energy on such areas as domestic violence, the environment, gay and lesbian rights, and labor union and poverty law.

Scholar Jana Rumminger, L'04, for instance pursued her passion for human rights law by completing three co-ops overseas at international human rights organizations.

"I've studied and worked in South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom, and at home in the United States," says Rumminger. "The flexibility and support offered by the program has helped shaped my understanding of what it means to be a human rights lawyer in an ever-changing world."

"The Public Interest Law Scholars program is essential to sustaining the law school's commitment to public interest law," says Dean Emily A. Spieler.

PILS was the brainchild of Nonnie S. Burnes, L'78, an associate justice on the Massachusetts Superior Court. Burnes, through a family fund, and the Hiatt family, through the Stride Rite Foundation, have each contributed more than $500,000 in seed funding for the program. Last year, Susan S. and Larry Deitch committed $1.5 million to provide critical permanent endowment for the program.

"I see the need for skilled and dedicated public interest lawyers in my courtroom everyday, and I wanted to help Northeastern produce more of them," says Burnes, who hosted a dinner for PILS scholars at her home last year.

This article was published in the January 2005 issue of Northeastern University Magazine.

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