Benefit honors students and alumni while raising money to support students working in the public interest

On February 26 the annual Public Service Benefit celebrated NYU School of Law students—past and present—whose work has made significant contributions in the public interest. Co-hosted by the Law Alumni Association (LAA), the Law Alumni of Color Association (LACA), and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), the benefit also serves as a fundraiser to support students who spend their summer on full-time public interest work.

LAA’s President-elect Katrina James ’07 presented the LAA Public Interest Pro Bono award to Earl Ward ’85, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney and former commissioner on New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates allegations of police misconduct.

“I’ve known Earl for about 25 years,” said James. “I was a college intern at the Neighborhood Defender Service while Earl was there, and he was one of the people, and his work was some of the work, that inspired me to pursue a career in public service and to pursue my legal studies here at [NYU Law].”

Ward, now a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady and chair of the board of directors for the Bronx Defenders and Housing Works, among other organizations, recalled being in Greenberg Lounge for the first time in 1982 for an admitted students reception. Confiding to an administrator his anxiety about being able to afford law school if he decided to pursue public interest work, the administrator told him that if Ward committed to NYU Law, it would commit to him.

“And it has,” Ward said, citing the Law School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program for allowing him to pursue public interest work. “The Law School trained me and educated me and encouraged my work in public interest, and they sent me out to do good work,” said Ward. “And I think after 35 years, this award is NYU Law saying, ‘You didn’t let us down.’”

The Public Service Award presented to an individual recognized Sienna Fontaine ’07, co-director of the legal team at Make the Road New York, which provides education and support services to immigrant and working-class people in New York, and also advocates for policy reform. Fontaine and her team have worked to oppose immigrant detention centers and have led protests against the 2017 executive orders barring entry to refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.

The Public Service Award presented to a student organization was given to the NYU Law Immigrant Rights Project (IRP), which partners with community-based organizations, such as the New Sanctuary Coalition and Catholic Charities, to connect current law students with opportunities to advocate for non-citizens. Andrew Soboeiro ’21, who accepted the award on IRP’s behalf, thanked PILC for helping the IRP to realize its vision of advocating for those with limited access to legal services.

“PILC has been with us every step of the way,” said Soboeiro. “Both in terms of providing funding and also providing support and counselling so that we might be as effective as possible.”

The night concluded with a raffle for current students and a silent auction open to students and alumni. The proceeds will help provide funding for students engaged in summer public interest work. 

“The Law School’s commitment to supporting public interest students is unparalleled,” said Assistant Dean for Public Service Lisa Hoyes ’99 in her remarks. “Our public interest students are leaders in this school and will soon join our alumni to be leaders in the world.”

Posted March 26, 2020