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TPIC’s History & Growth

  • Penn Law’s first student pro bono project, the Guild Food Stamp Clinic, opens its doors to Philadelphians seeking food justice. Student volunteers engage in experiential learning by helping community members apply for food stamps and appealing terminations or reductions in food stamp benefits.

    Since 2000, students working in the GFSC have assisted more than 1,600 people.

  • Penn Law renames the annual Public Interest Symposium to commemorate the life and work of late professor and tireless advocate for the poor, Edward V. Sparer.

    Now in its 34th year, the Sparer Symposium brings together legal academics and practitioners to provide insight into the intersection of scholarship and practice in the area of poverty law.

  • The Penn Law faculty vote to establish a public service program requiring all JD candidates to complete 70 hours of pro bono service as a prerequisite to graduation. Penn Law’s is only the second such requirement in the country, and remains to this day the most rigorous. Philadelphia advocate Judi Bernstein-Baker (above) was hired as the program’s first director.

    The Public Interest Scholarship program is established as one of TPIC’s foundational endeavors. The scholarship originally covers the cost of tuition for three students from each class who have excellent academic records, are dedicated to social justice issues, and demonstrate a potential for leadership. Under the current model, each year the program provides generous support to sixincoming students. To date, over 100 PI Scholars have graduated from Penn Law and have moved on to serve in leadership roles at many of the most prestigious public interest organizations in the country. 


  • Penn Law class of ’92 graduates as the first cohort to complete the 70-hour public service requirement. This group of 231 Students performs almost 17,000 hours of pro bono legal work for over 100 under-resourced Philadelphia organizations.

  • Penn Law’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program for alumni working in public interest fields (now TolLRAP) reaches $100,000 in annual assistance.

  • Penn Law is the first law school to win the American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award, given each year to institutions and individuals in the legal profession that have demonstrated outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for the poor and disadvantaged.

  • A transformative gift from Robert (L’66) and Jane Toll allows TPIC to expand Public Interest Scholarship and TolLrap programs while doubling public service opportunities for students.

  • Penn Law establishes the International Summer Human Rights Fellowship (ISHRF) program as a means to provide students with first-hand experience in promoting and protecting human rights abroad. Through the ISHRF program, students have worked around the world on issues ranging from women’s rights to rule of law development to criminal law reform and international prosecution of human rights violations.
  • The first annual Public Interest Week celebrates the power of public interest by bringing the Penn Law community together for five days of programming dedicated to social justice issues. The week includes a presentation by the year’s Honorary Fellow in Residence (past fellows have included Ralph Nader, Stephen Bright, Marcia Greenberger, Corey Booker, and Morris Dees among others) and culminates in the annual public interest alumni dinner, which brings graduates working all over the country back to the law school.

  • The law school launches the Penn Law Postgraduate Fellowship program to assist graduates embarking on careers in social justice advocacy. Fellowships enable recipients to work for a year at a host organization, developing skills and insights that will serve them for the rest of their careers.

    In a testament to the program’s effectiveness, since 2009 nearly all of our 24 fellows have been retained by their host organizations or have secured related employment at the close of the fellowship period.

  • The first annual public interest overnight retreat gives Penn Law students an opportunity to re-engage with the issues that brought them to law school, meet other Penn Law students interested in equal justice, and deepen the community that will support them throughout their time at Penn Law and beyond.

  • Penn Law guarantees summer funding to students interested in pursuing public interest internships, ensuring that they can gain valuable advocacy experience without financial hardship.


    The expanded and revampedTolLRAP program exceeds half a million dollars in annual assistance. To date, almost $6,000,000 have been distributed through the program to launch and support legal careers in public interest fields.


  • The class of 2014 graduates with over 30,000 hours of service. In a tangible demonstration of Penn Law students’ commitment to service, 93% surpass the 70-hour requirement.

  • TPIC coordinates 27 student pro bono projects encompassing all areas of public interest law— over twice the number of projects that existed in 2009, and triple the number that existed in 2006. Project volunteers work with 67 community partner organizations, gaining almost 19,000 hours of practical legal experience a year and serving 22,000 clients from local, national, and global communities.