Race raises funds for public-interest Law School grads

Participants included Law School Dean Alex Johnson and Alan Page, a state Supreme Court associate justice.

More than 300 people ran through downtown Minneapolis on Sunday, raising funds for University Law School graduates who practice public interest law.

“Public interest work does not make the stereotypical lawyer salary,” said Matt Gehring, the event coordinator. “It is more rewarding work.”

To encourage graduates pursuing careers in public interest law, the University’s Public Interest Law Student Association organized the Race for Justice, a 5-kilometer walk or run fund-raiser.

Gehring said the average student could accumulate as much as $100,000 in student loans after completing three years of law school.

Because of debt, students who are interested in public interest law sometimes give up the idea after graduation because those jobs do not pay much, he said.

The race helped accrue funds for those lawyers so they can pursue their careers without worrying about loans. The event garnered approximately $5,500, part of which came from the $15 entry fee.

Proceeds from the race will go to the Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota, which provides assistance for new attorneys practicing public interest law, Gehring said.

Meredith Lins, a third-year law student, said providing funds for public interest lawyers is a crucial part of making sure everyone has access to competent legal representation.

“I firmly believe that the quality of an individual’s representation or whether the person has a lawyer at all should not depend 100 percent on how much money that client has to pay a lawyer,” she said.

Everyone should have equitable access to the best lawyers regardless of their income, she said.

Jessica Munson, one of six law school alumni who receive loan repayment assistance, said she could not have practiced public interest law without the program.

“My loans are so large that I don’t earn enough at Legal Aid to pay both my loan and living expenses,” said Munson, who represents clients in housing discrimination matters with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services.

Heather Vlieger, executive director of Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota, said her organization is grateful to be the beneficiary of the race proceeds.

She said the program’s awards are made through an open, competitive process to individuals employed at least 35 hours per week at a nonprofit organization or government or Native American tribal agency.

Applicants who want to be considered for the program must be employed in Minnesota or have graduated from a Minnesota law school, she said.

Vlieger said they also have to apply within three years of graduating from law school to be considered for the program.

“Our board of directors determines the amount of each award by a formula that considers adjusted household income and debt,” she said.

Among the participants in this year’s race were Alan Page, who is an associate justice in the Minnesota Supreme Court, and Law School Dean Alex Johnson.

Johnson, who beat his performance time from last year by nearly two minutes, said the event builds a sense of community and highlights the good things public interest lawyers do in the community.