By a unanimous vote, the faculty created the Public Interest Law Scholars Program to provide an enriched academic program and focused career counseling to specially selected students who planned careers as public interest lawyers. The Program began in the fall of 1988 and graduated its first class in May, 1991.
In 1996, the Law Center completed a major fund-raising campaign and was able to transform the Program into one that offered partial scholarships as well as academic and other benefits. At that time, the Law Center began requiring entering Scholars to make written moral commitments to become public interest lawyers, and asking them to undertake some public service during each of their law school years as well.
Even among classes that were not asked to make a "moral commitment," loyalty to the ideals of public service has been high. More than 60% of the PILS graduates who entered before 1996 are currently in public interest jobs.
Alumni of the program have had dramatic successes. A very high proportion of them have graduated from the Law Center with academic honors and prizes. Since 2000, three PILS graduated first among the 600 in their respective law school classes and many others have finished in the top 10% of the class. Scholars have often served in leadership positions in the Law Center before becoming leaders in the community and nation.
An initiative by one PILS led to the founding of the Law Center's Office of Public Interest and Community Service. Another was instrumental in founding the Thurgood Marshall Academy, a charter high school in a poor neighborhood of the District of Columbia that graduated its first class in 2005 - and every one of its graduates went off to a four-year college.
Many of them have held prestigious federal court clerkships, and one has served as the clerk to a U.S. Supreme Court justice. In 2000-01, two served as special assistants to U.S. cabinet members (one of them as a White House Fellow). Several alumni have returned to the Program as mentors and six have taught courses to succeeding groups of Public Interest Law Scholars.