Run raises money for public interest law

Some of the money raised will be set aside for a summer clerkship position.

For University law student Matt Gehring, going into public interest law means giving up a potentially big salary for a cause he believes in.

And for the last two years, he’s been running for that cause.

On Sunday, Gehring and approximately 500 others filed onto Nicollet Island in downtown Minneapolis to take part in the Race for Justice, an annual event created to raise donations for law graduates planning to pursue public interest work.

“Public interest law does not make the traditional high-paying salary that most lawyers make,” said Gehring, co-president of the Public Interest Law Student Association. “They need additional help paying off large student loans.”

Public interest lawyers often serve low-income and disadvantaged communities.

“The inability to pay an attorney should not hinder the rights of anyone,” said Erin Keyes, the Law School’s assistant dean of students. “This race helps emphasize the importance of public interest law.”

The race, a five-kilometer walk/run through the streets of Minneapolis, has grown since its inaugural run in 2003.

“The first year, the race barely made enough to break even,” Gehring said. “Last year, we raised $7,000 for law grads, and this year, we project to raise around $10,000.”

Money raised through donations is dispersed into two funds. Much of the money is sent to the Loan Repayment Assistance Program of Minnesota, which helps new attorneys practicing public interest law repay hefty law school loans.

After paying for three years of law school and the bar exam, a law student can accumulate nearly $100,000 in debt, Gehring said.

Keyes said she understands the conditions law graduates face when trying to gain experience in the work force while repaying loans.

“When I graduated from law school, there weren’t any fund-raisers available to help me repay loans,” Keyes said. “The cause really hits close to home with me.”

The race attracted successful legal figures such as Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, who has participated all three years of the race.

“It is important to help those students defray the costs of law school,” Page said. “This race is a fun and easy way to do it.”

Approximately $3,000 of the money donated at the race will be set aside for a public interest clerkship this summer. Through the clerkship, a chosen law student from the University will participate in funded public interest work.

Clerkship applicants will brainstorm ideas for summer public interest work, which could vary from working with immigrant labor to family law. A group of board members from the Law School will then choose one student’s proposal.

“Without the donated money, this type of opportunity – to be paid while gaining experience – would not be possible,” Gehring said.

– Freelance editor Lou Raguse welcomes comments at [email protected]