Law Strategic Initiatives Fund Aids Recent Grads in a Tough Economy
BY MIKE WALLACE
Jessica Seargeant graduated from Santa Clara Law in 2009 during the worst economic downturn since World War II. “The job market was really, really tough,” she said. “Most of the openings were asking for people with three to five years of experience.”
After months of fruitless searching, she was happy to receive a notice that Santa Clara Law had launched a new program offering paying fellowships for recent graduates. The fellowships allow grads to work in the legal field, receive mentoring and continue to take classes to enhance their legal education. She applied and was one of 15 accepted to the program in January of this year.
She has been working with Professor Kathleen M. Ridolfi on the Northern California Innocence Project, reviewing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in appellate cases between 1996 and 2009. Her research, along with that of others in the project, will appear in a paper now being prepared for publication.
“I’ve gotten to do some good research and learn about an important issue while developing my skills,” Seargeant said. “The fellowship has enabled me to continue thinking legally and continue to learn. It’s been very helpful.”
Graduate fellowships such as hers were made possible for the first time this year by the success of the Law Strategic Initiatives Fund (LSIF). The new fund was created a year ago at the behest of Dean Donald J. Polden to replace the annual fund as the primary vehicle for raising unrestricted funds to support the school’s mission and objectives. So far it’s been highly successful; as of early June, contributions to the LSIF were 40 percent higher than the prior year’s contributions to the annual fund.
In addition to the graduate fellowships, LSIF funds will be used for scholarships and financial aid, technology and resources, learning programs and scholarly endeavors, and alumni services. Dean Polden said all these things work toward the larger strategic goal of attracting and retaining the best faculty and attracting a highly qualified and diverse student body.
“We decided to invite our donors and friends to invest in our strategic initiatives—to consider the key issues we’re looking at and identify with them,” said Dean Polden. “Our donors are very interested in how their funds will be used, and most of them have confidence that they’ll be used in the best way possible. When we first presented this to prospective donors, they could see the benefit at the front end.”
Jacqueline Wender, Senior Assistant Dean, Administration, said that 37 percent of the students in the law school receive school-funded financial aid, and that the LSIF funds will be an important source of that aid. The graduate fellowships, which she administers, are consistent with Santa Clara Law’s goals of continuing education and support of alumni, she said. The program is expected to cost $83,000 this year.
Other projects alumni are working on under the fellowship program include preparing a casebook on doing business in China, teaching constitutional law in high school classes, working with the Law Career Services office to improve alumni services, and compiling a detailed database on the California Bar Exam.
“These programs show how valuable the LSIF funds are,” she said. “Their importance can not be overstated.”
Polden said he has high hopes for the continued success of LSIF as a way of raising critical funding for the law school. “Our donors have an interest in accountability and stewardship,” he said, “and this will be one of the most important ways our friends and supporters can help make a difference at Santa Clara Law, consistent with our mission.”