OPICS Celebrates 20 Years of Championing Public Service

April 25, 2017

Professor from Practice Andrew Schoenholtz and Dash-Muse Fellow Patrick Griffith of the Human Rights Institute presented the Bettina Pruckmayr Award for Human Rights to Megan Abbot (F’09, L’17) and Becca Balis (L’17) at Public Interest Proud.

What does OPICS stand for? OPICS means that Caitlin Cocilova (L’15) is teaching others to advocate for themselves at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. That Mark Doss (L’13) at the International Refugee Assistance Project fought “tooth and nail” to help a client detained at JFK airport. That Lee McGoldrick (L’99), who worked for Teach for America as a college student, was able to build a career with that organization. That thousands of current and former Georgetown Law students are working to improve the lives of others, every single day.

These individuals all found their way to Georgetown Law’s Office of Public Interest and Community Service (OPICS) — one of only a handful of standalone public interest offices at law schools across the country. And at a special event at the Law Center in March, they helped Georgetown Law celebrate OPICS’s 20th anniversary.

“Over the last 20 years, we have supported countless students to realize their dreams; we have connected students to thousands of internships, externships, fellowships and post-grad positions; we’ve funded hundreds, possibly thousands of students in the summer and in post-grad fellowships; we’ve fostered a program and ethic of Georgetown that few schools can equal; we have provided placements, election protection training [and] immigrant rights training,” Wally Mlyniec (L’70), the Lupo-Ricci Professor of Clinical Legal Studies at Georgetown Law, said at the event.

Mlyniec added that the Law Center will soon be offering additional immigrant rights training for students, faculty and fellows. “We have provided a home base for students and grads who seek a vital validation of the work that we do. Today, more than ever, we — and they — need your support…to pursue their dreams of a career and to serve the public.”

Assistant Dean Barbara Moulton, OPICS Director Lauren Dubin and Vice Dean Jane Aiken also recounted the successes of OPICS since its founding in April 1997, thanks in part to “radical” students like Leonard Adler (L’94) and Sczerina Perot (L’96, LL.M.’16).

From former Georgetown Law Dean Judy Areen to present Dean William M. Treanor; from Professor Deborah Epstein to Vice Dean Aiken; from longtime Office Manager Kim Matthews to current Associate/Assistant Directors Nicole Vikan, Morgan Lynn-Alesker, Katie Dilks, Ruby Sheikh, Robert Kaylor and Pro Bono Coordinator Jen Tschirch — countless faculty, staff and alumni have also helped to make OPICS what it is today.

“Your presence here fills us with renewed inspiration as we continue our work in supporting new generations of public interest advocates,” Moulton said.

Supporting Public Interest

April McClain-Delaney (L’89) and Congressman John Delaney (L’88) — whose generous support has helped create public interest fellowships and a public interest professorship held by Professor Phil Schrag — sent their congratulations via video. “One of the reasons we have always felt so strongly about supporting public interest law programs is [that] every public interest lawyer who is successfully launched into the law could potentially affect hundreds if not thousands of people,” John said.

Among the many successes of Georgetown’s public interest program is its funding for public-interest related summer work. Thanks to the Law Center’s commitment, all students who want to do summer public interest work are guaranteed funding: 470 students participated in the summer of 2016. In 2017, 2Ls will see a significant raise in the amount of funds.

Back in the day, Professor Peter Edelman also helped to champion public interest at Georgetown by advocating for additional staff, which brought Dubin and Assistant Dean Marcia Shannon to Georgetown Law. “It turned out to be my life’s work…” Dubin said to the roomful of alumni. “Thanks to each of you for including us in your lives.”

Public Interest Proud

At a separate event on April 25, Georgetown Law celebrated student accomplishments at the annual “Public Interest Proud,” hosted by OPICS. Highlights:

Bettina Pruckmayr Award for Human Rights: Megan Abbot (F’09, L’17), Becca Balis (L’17)

Student Recognition: Charlotte Berschback (L’18), Claire Chevrier (L’17), Emily Wilson (L’17)

Growth of the Partner Fellowship Program for Graduating Students: Georgetown Law now partners with a record-number 55 organizations — including nonprofits and agencies — to provide one-year fellowships for graduates. “It’s been a wonderful thing for students looking to break into public interest,” said Assistant Dean Barbara Moulton. “It’s also been a wonderful way for us to support those public interest organizations that are doing great work and are always underfunded.”

Summer Funding: Summer funding, which has been guaranteed since 2009 for all Georgetown Law students doing public interest or government work, has been increased to $5500.

2017 Home Court 30 Charity Basketball Game: The 30th anniversary game raised more than $1 million for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, thanks to student leaders like Genevieve Fugere (L’17), Stephanie Ritter (L’17) and Brooke Pinto (L’17).

Spring Break: Thirty-six students participated in spring break trips to Detroit and New Orleans, working for seven legal services organizations.

Class of 2017: More than 260 students in the Class of 2017 participated in the Pro Bono Pledge, contributing collectively more than 35,000 public service hours.

Class of 2019: More than 200 ILs signed the Pro Bono Pledge, reporting more than 2500 hours so far. Approximately 150 sought opportunities through to the Pro Bono Project in the fall and 80 signed up in the spring.