The 2023 Public Interest Law Group Auction raised $30,000 for public interest fellowships through online bidding and celebrated with an in-person reception for the first time since 2019.
The annual auction is the main fundraising event for the student-run Public Interest Law Group, which supports students in public interest summer jobs. By funding fellowships, the group has enabled students to work for organizations such as the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, and the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Fundraising through PILG started 32 years ago as a modest endeavor organized by two UConn Law students: Andrew McDonald ’91, now a Connecticut Supreme Court justice, and Christine Cimini ’91, now a professor of law and associate dean for experiential education at the University of Washington School of Law.
McDonald attended the Feb. 10 reception in William F. Starr Hall and described how he and Cimini reached out to law firms and insurance companies to support the first fundraising efforts. Their initial goals were modest but afforded about 10 grants for students, one of which went to McDonald.
“My grant allowed me to commute into New York City and intern at the Federal Defender Services Unit for the Southern District of New York,” he said. He went on to work as a litigation partner at Pullman & Comley in Stamford before returning to public service – first as a state senator and general counsel in the governor’s office and now as a state Supreme Court justice.
A few years after the first fellowships were awarded, PILG switched to an auction format. This year’s auction was the 30th. Bidding began on Feb. 6 and continued through the reception on Feb. 10, giving attendees the opportunity to see the items up for auction and bid as they wished. While they bid, guests were free to mingle and enjoy refreshments.
Some of the most sought-after items at the event included dinner and dancing with the law school deans, Disney Park passes, and a painting of the UConn Law library by second-year law student Alexandria Abacherli. The painting fetched $850.
Remarks were given by members of PILG and Dean Eboni S. Nelson, all of whom expressed gratitude to the sponsors and auction participants for supporting students in the public interest field.
“While our students offer support to nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and other institutions with these funds, they are gaining the critical experience they need to serve underserved communities as leaders in the field and create meaningful change,” Dean Nelson said.
Delivering a student perspective, Meg Phillips, a second-year law student and president of the Public Interest Law Group, described how the fellowships enable students to pursue their passions.
“For some of us, that job is not just an interest in a particular area of law, but a passion to find the causes we care about, causes that protect marginalized communities, uplift voices not often heard, and are the public sector itself,” Phillips said. “For 30 years, law students who share this sentiment have come together and dedicated their time to make sure that their fellow classmates could fulfill their desire to serve others unencumbered by financial hardship.”
UConn President Radenka Maric also made an appearance at the event, making a few remarks. “I encourage you all to be great humans,” she said, emphasizing the importance of public service and fighting for justice, especially in the world today.
By the end of the evening, almost all of the items were auctioned off and the Public Interest Law Group had reached its goal of $30,000 for 30 years of the annual auction.
“The auction was a huge success,” said Caroline McCormack, second-year law student and co-auction chair. “We are so grateful for UConn and the larger Connecticut community that helped make this possible.”