Professor Schrag Honored with Delaney Family Professorship

September 30, 2009 —

Few practitioners have managed to demonstrate the rewards of a career in public interest law in more or better ways than Professor Philip Schrag. In 1988, he successfully proposed to the Georgetown Law faculty the Public Interest Law Scholars program, which provides scholarship assistance and enriched academic experience to selected students planning public interest careers. He helped persuade Congress to adopt loan forgiveness legislation for graduates across the country who pursue public interest careers. In his role as co-director of Georgetown Law's Center for Applied Legal Studies, Schrag has for 14 years supervised students who represent refugees seeking asylum in the United States. And that's just a snapshot of an extraordinary public interest c.v.

On September 23, Schrag was honored with the inaugural Delaney Family Professorship of Public Interest Law. Made possible through the generosity of April McClain-Delaney (L'89) and John K. Delaney (L'88), the professorship recognizes the important role that Georgetown Law faculty members play in preparing public interest lawyers and in contributing scholarship that furthers the cause of justice. The Delaneys, who met at the Law Center, have served on the University's Board of Directors as well as the Law Center's Board of Visitors; April is the Washington director for Common Sense Media and John is the co-founder and CEO of CapitalSource, Inc.

"I think it's fair to say their partnership has borne fruit," said Dean T. Alexander Aleinikoff, as he thanked the Delaneys for their continued support and commitment to Georgetown.

In his introduction, Professor Richard Lazarus referred to Schrag's career as "an exquisite but still enlarging tapestry of diverse achievements."

"Phil has been a significant civil rights litigator, one of the nation's first consumer advocates, an arms control official., a true pioneer in clinical legal education, a champion of law students interested in public interest law, and no less a champion of individuals seeking asylum within our nation's borders," said Lazarus, who also noted Schrag's prolific output as an author. And his work on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, Lazarus said, was an even greater gift. "A law professor cannot pass major federal legislation, unless of course you're Phil Schrag."

Not surprisingly, Schrag chose to direct his investiture address to "the undecideds" (students considering a career in public interest law), offering them a list of compelling reasons to follow this path - including the shared mission among like-minded lawyers, the camaraderie among the larger public interest community, outstanding mentoring and the large degree of responsibility given to recent graduates.

"In my first job ... I actually had the experience that people joked about when I was in law school," he said, describing how he arrived at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on his first day of work and was told to draft an amicus brief for the Supreme Court. "Getting heart-thumping responsibility right away ... is common in public interest practice."

Public interest work offers a flexibility and mobility between practice areas that's not always practical in a law firm setting, Schrag said, and the work done by public interest lawyers is anything but routine. Public interest and government attorneys, Schrag noted, have worked on both sides of issues ranging from Guantánamo detainees to gay marriage; and are working to solve the health care, financial, and global warming problems.

Practicing public interest law can even be fun, Schrag said. But more importantly, public interest lawyers get the opportunity to provide services to people who desperately need help - such as the refugees assisted in Georgetown Law's Center for Applied Legal Studies.

"These are often life and death decisions, and we usually win," he said. "These are the moments that I am proudest to be a public interest lawyer - and that I have done something tangible and concrete to improve the life of another person."

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