The following history of BLSPI has been developed using historical documents and conversations with alumni. We welcome updates, corrections, or additional information - please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
BLSPI began in the fall of 1990 as the brainchild of a group of dedicated public interest law students. “Brooklyn Public Interest Law Foundation” or “BPILF” does business under the name “Brooklyn Law Students for the Public Interest” or “BLSPI.”
According to its October 1990 Statement of Interest, BLSPI’s purpose was to increase opportunities for BLS students to practice public interest law and to help meet the legal needs of under-represented individuals. Recognizing that many law students desiring to work in the public interest are unable to do so because of the costs associated with law school and because most public interest work goes unpaid, the ultimate goal of BLSPI was to provide fellowship opportunities to students so that they could pursue public interest work while in law school. It sought to increase student exposure to and involvement with public interest law in a number of other ways as well: bringing noted practitioners in a variety of public interest fields to give presentations at the law school, working with the career services office to create a Public Interest Career Day to learn about public interest career opportunities, arranging for BLS faculty to share their public interest knowledge and experiences with students, working with the school to improve the Loan Forgiveness Program, and partnering with the community and other public interest groups to provide direct legal assistance as much as possible.
The organization’s certificate of incorporation was filed with the Department of State of the State of New York on July 2, 1991. The initial Board of Directors included Nathan Courtney, Steve Landis, Jane Landry, Ilona Marsh, Sean Ryan, Karen Smolar, Phoebe Wilkinson, Dafna Yoran, and Paul Zimmerman, with Steve Landis serving as Acting Chair.
The first meeting of the initial Board of Directors of BLSPI was held on October 2, 1991. At that meeting, the Board unanimously established procedures and provisionally adopted the proposed by-laws, anticipating a final adoption at the first general body meeting to be held October 9, 1991. The Standing Committee on Fellowship Disbursement, chaired by Nathan Courtney, Jane Landry, and Sean Ryan, was also unanimously created. Its purpose was to investigate various methods of providing fellowships to BLS students, recommend the method to be adopted by the Board, and create a report outlining each method, along with their pros and cons. The Fellowship program that developed from their work continues to this day.
In its first year, BLSPI raised over $31,000 to initially fund its Fellowship program. One of the first BLSPI membership rosters, from 1991 or 1992, included 115 current students and alumni.
From 1991 – 2011, BLSPI’s history is not always clearly recorded. Still, since its conception in the fall of 1990, what is clear is that while it has expanded and its leadership has changed with each new class of public interest-minded students, but its mission remains the same: to encourage and enable student participation in public interest legal work serving underrepresented communities and individuals. Each year, BLSPI, through its annual Auction proceeds and in partnership with BLS, has continued to fund Fellowships for students pursuing public interest work. During difficult financial times, when funding for public interest work was in jeopardy, BLSPI students were at the forefront of securing continued funding for their members’ work. BLSPI members have continued to collaborate with the Public Service Office, now the Office of Public Service Programs, to provide students with job search skills, pro bono opportunities, and public service programming. BLSPI has expanded to nearly 400 current members and an Executive Board of approximately 30 dedicated public interest leaders. Not only does BLSPI provide Fellowships to current students, but it also has an alumni outreach committee; leads one of the school’s largest mentorship programs; manages its own pro bono project, the Court Help Center Volunteer Project; organizes service projects and plans lectures and discussions on public interest topics through its Community Development Committee; has increased part-time student participation by establishing a Part-Time Student Liaison; and has continued to increase student outreach through use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, coordinated by BLSPI’s Public Relations Chair and Webmaster. BLSPI’s Auction co-chairs, each year representing some of the most dedicated and hardworking BLSPI members, have continued to host the annual BLSPI Auction, raising record funds to continue the BLSPI Fellowship program.
During the 2012-2013 school year, the BLSPI Board of Directors took on a monumental task – revising the BLSPI by-laws. With the aid of the school’s Community Development Clinic and several Brooklyn Law School professors, the Board spent countless hours soliciting member feedback in both open meetings and through notice and comment periods to revise and finalize the by-laws. Most of the revisions focused on developing policies that would ensure establishment of a Board of Directors with more accountability for student leaders charged with the organization’s operations. The by-laws were amended on April 16, 2013. During the 2013-2014 academic year, the newly re-established Board of Directors, comprised of the co-chairs, secretary, treasurer, and assistant treasurer, as well as any elected Directors Emeriti, have continued to review and revise BLSPI policies with the input of BLSPI members, driving towards the goal of updating BLSPI’s procedures and establishing clear policies to enable the continued success and growth of BLSPI.